Sure, life is busy. The work/home/kids juggling act means that taking care of YOU is often an after thought. But as this week is Women’s Health Week (4-8 September) it’s a great reminder to shift the focus and start – or continue – working towards being the healthiest you can be. To help get us on the right track, I caught up with Heba Shaheed, co-founder of The Pelvic Expert, to draw on her expertise in women’s health physiotherapy, nutrition and exercise and put together a decade-by-decade guide on how to be healthy at every age.
How to Be Healthy at Every Age
- Reduce and manage stress as it is a major contributing factor to most health problems. Stress can muck up your hormones and cause weight gain, skin problems, thyroid issues, depression and menstrual issues like PCOS. It’s also harder to fall pregnant if you are chronically stressed.
- If you have painful periods it’s important to realise this is not normal and can be a sign of endometriosis, which affects 10% of women. Endometriosis has an average delayed diagnosis of 7-10 years, and catching it early is important for fertility, and overall quality of life.
- Get regular pap smears and STI screens so you can screen and prevent cervical cancer, and screen and treat STIs like chlamydia and herpes.
- Eat high calcium foods and consider calcium supplements as your bones are developing in your 20s, and stop at 30. You need to have calcium stores for your body to use, because as you age you lose bone density.
- Painful sex affects about 20% of women. This is a sign that your pelvic floor muscles are too tight. See a women’s health physiotherapist, as she can teach you how to stretch, release and relax those muscles.
- Do your pelvic floor exercises. If you’ve fallen pregnant or had children, chances are you may be leaking with activities like coughing, sneezing, jumping or running. About 50% of women do their pelvic floor exercises incorrectly, so see a women’s health physiotherapist, as she can teach you effective ways to engage these muscles.
- Pelvic organ prolapse affects about 1 in 3 women after birth. Book in a check-up with a women’s health physiotherapist. She’s trained in vaginal examinations and can fit you with a support device called a pessary if you need it.
- Have “me” time. Self-care is important to prevent burnout, anxiety and depression. Consider getting regular massages, doing yoga or catching up with your girlfriends.
- Reduce stress, and try to get some decent sleep every night. Have a screen time curfew so you can unwind easier. Consider getting your blood pressure checked at your next GP visit.
- If you’re having fertility issues, consider checking your thyroid and blood glucose levels, and tracking your menstrual cycle. Eating healthy fats, clean protein and mixed vegetables will help keep your hormones balanced for better fertility
- Women who have the first child in their 40s are more likely to experience pelvic organ prolapse, incontinence, and pelvic floor tears. It’s really important to do regular pelvic floor exercises and have a women’s health physiotherapist check-up to screen, prevent and treat any pelvic issues.
- Fit in regular exercise, whether it’s bootcamp, gym, running, yoga or pilates. Your metabolism is slowing down so it’s really important for weight control and muscle mass, as well as for heart health, to keep moving.
- Check your breasts regularly and report any changes in how they look or feel to your GP.
- Your menstrual cycle might start to change as your hormones change in preparation for menopause. Fibroids are common so be sure to see your GP if you’re having wacky menstrual symptoms like heavy bleeding and pain. You may also notice your libido lowering.
- Depression and stress are higher for women in their 40s, especially when juggling career and family. Have a sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday, schedule in “me time”, and practice mindfulness or meditation.
- Hormonal changes and menopause cause drops in estrogen so eat healthily especially natural phytoestrogens like vegetables and beans.
- Menopause increases the chance of bladder and bowel accidents, and pelvic organ prolapse can manifest. Make sure to do your pelvic floor exercises and schedule a check-up with a women’s health physiotherapist.
- As you may start to notice more joint aches and pains it’s important have a exercise routine that uses weights and take a regular omega-3 fish oil supplement.
- Vaginal dryness is common, so use lots of lubricant during sex.
- Have all your health screens including mammograms, pap smears, bowel cancer screens, bone density, blood pressure and blood tests.
- Incontinence is common for women in the 60s. Keep up the daily pelvic floor exercises and see your local women’s health physiotherapist.
- Exercise is important for your muscles, joints and bones, especially weight training. Pilates, yoga and swimming are great options if you experience pain.
- Eat more healthy fats and antioxidants and drink more electrolytes. This is important for anti-ageing and reducing issues like fatigue and dizziness.
- Constipation is common. Drink plenty of water, supplement with magnesium, and eat lots of fibre such as vegetables and seeds.
- Vaginal dryness and painful sex can be countered with vaginal moisturisers like Replens or natural alternatives like coconut oil.
As part of Women’s Health Week on September, Heba is hosting a FREE 5-Day Pelvic Floor Fitness Challenge exclusively for Mums. You can find out more here