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May 9, 2016

5 Steps to Better Health You Shouldn't Skip

by Amanda MacMillan

Yesterday’s celebration of Mother’s Day kicked off National Women’s Health Week, an annual reminder for all women -- moms, daughters, sisters, girlfriends, wives -- to make their health a priority. This is something all of us should be thinking about year-round, of course, but a refresher is never a bad idea.

So listen up, ladies: Even if you exercise and eat right, you may still be skipping some of the most important steps to good long-term health. Here, Stacey Rosen, MD, vice president of women’s health at Northwell Health’s Katz Institute for Women's Health, shares the top five things she wishes more women did.

Stop skimping on sleep.

Too often, women trying to “have it all” forgo shuteye in order to squeeze more into their days. But adults need six to eight hours of sleep a night; getting less than that can contribute to both short- and long-term health problems, from trouble with memory to weight gain. “Bragging about how little sleep you need has become a badge of courage for women in our culture,” says Rosen. “The truth is, your wellness is dependent on getting the right amount.”

Find a doctor you trust.

“Women are so particular about finding the right child care and hairdressers and all kinds of other services, but too often they don’t feel empowered to identify a doctor who really becomes a partner in their health,” says Rosen. That’s concerning, she adds, because if you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor you may be less likely to ask questions, bring up symptoms that worry you or stay up-to-date on check-ups and routine medical screenings.

Know your heart disease risk factors.

Heart disease is the number-one killer of women, yet many people still consider it a man’s problem. “It’s never too early or too late to find out your risk factors,” says Rosen. That includes knowing your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers; your doctor can recommend how often you should be tested.

Add strength training to your workouts.

“Women have a tendency to love aerobic activity and be less comfortable lifting weights or doing resistance exercises,” says Rosen. But adding strength training to your routine at least twice a week is important: Among other benefits, it can protect against muscle and bone loss that can occur as women get older. It’s easier than you think to get started. You don’t need dumbbells or a gym membership -- you can get a great workout using your own body weight or small props, like soup cans or bottles of water.

Schedule time for yourself.

“Stress relief and social support are vital to women’s health,” Dr. Rosen says, “but they’re often the first things we drop when we get busy.” That’s especially true for women who are raising children, caring for aging parents, juggling a career and personal life, or all of the above. Rosen makes sure her patients regularly set aside time for things that make them happy, whether it’s pursuing a hobby or laughing with girlfriends. In other words, consider this a reminder to schedule a walk with friends or a girl’s night out … doctor’s orders!