With Mother’s Day part of the annual cycle of renewal and rebirth, it’s an ideal time to honor the important role women play in the well-being of our families and communities. One way to do that is to think about strategies to help encourage women of all ages to prioritize their health, given their care needs might be unique and varied based on age, race, culture and other factors.
Often the caretakers and CEOs of their families’ health care needs, some women prioritize the well-being of their partners, parents and children while neglecting their own. In fact, a recent survey of American women found that nearly half of respondents during the last year had skipped a preventive health care appointment, such as an annual checkup, vaccine or recommended screening.
To recognize Mother’s Day and National Women’s Health Week (Sunday-May 20), here are ways to help support the health of women throughout the various stages of their lives:
Adolescence. By the time girls reach their teenage years, it becomes more important than ever to focus on healthy eating, regular exercise and adequate sleep — all of which are vital to support growing bodies and minds. Now is also the time to select a gynecologist and start annual exams, including learning how to do a breast self-exam. Additional screenings and vaccinations should also be considered, especially for teens with a family history of depression or anxiety. In fact, recent research found 57% of high school girls reported experiencing “persistent feelings of sadness in the last year,” compared to 36% a decade earlier. For help, virtual care is becoming a go-to option for the treatment of behavioral health issues, which may offer a more convenient and affordable access to qualified psychologists and psychiatrists.
Early adulthood. As women reach their 20s, 30s and 40s, the prevalence of behavioral health issues starts to decline while the frequency of other chronic conditions, including heart disease and diabetes, increases. Staying focused on eating a balanced diet, sticking to a consistent strength and cardiovascular training routine and minimizing stress may help ward off various diseases and reduce the likelihood of muscle strains or aches. This is also the period of life when some women think about starting or expanding their families. While often an exciting time, ensuring access to quality pre-conception, prenatal and postnatal care is paramount, given this type of support may help improve health outcomes for moms and babies. For the 15% of couples who experience infertility, dedicated support and benefits through their workplace health plan might increase the chances of a successful pregnancy and delivery.
Late adulthood. As women transition to late adulthood, the prevalence of some chronic conditions may continue to increase, including autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis as well as breast and colon cancer. Symptoms caused by menopause may become a concern, especially for women who smoke or consume alcohol frequently. More frequent screenings are also usually recommended, including annual exams for hearing and vision loss, as well as dental cleanings to help reduce the risk of gum disease, a condition that afflicts 68% of adults 65 years and older.
In addition, it’s important to continue cultivating strong social connections to help stave off social isolation, as one study found interpersonal networks are more important to physical health than exercising or maintaining a recommended body weight.
We’ve celebrated Mother’s Day for more than 100 years. By focusing on the well-being of women of all ages, we can help support and honor them for their important contributions to our families and communities.
Dr. Donna O’Shea is OB/GYN and chief medical officer of population health, UnitedHealthcare.
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