"While I don't believe an annual head-to-toe physical is necessary for everyone, checking in with a primary care physician at least every year or two is important to detect problems early and stay up to date with recommended screening tests," family physician and author Lisa Doggett says. "If you have risk factors for cancer or chronic disease, you are over 50, or you already know that you have a chronic medical condition, more regular visits are recommended. If you're not sure how often to see the doctor, make an appointment, and ask your doctor what she recommends."
Have a pap smear every 3 years
"Pap smears are recommended for women ages 21-29 every three years. Pap smears and/or HPV testing every 3-5 years are recommended for women ages 30-65," Doggett explains. "These tests are important to detect cervical cancer and pre-cancer early, when treatment and cure are more likely."
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Schedule regular mammograms
"Mammograms, usually starting around age 45 or 50, are strongly recommended for women to detect breast cancer at an early stage when it can be more easily treated and cured," Doggett says.
Test for colon cancer
"Colon cancer screening - via colonoscopy, stool tests, or other methods - is important for all women (and men), usually beginning at age 50," Doggett, suggests. "There are several ways to screen, though colonoscopy is usually considered the gold standard. Screening should begin earlier than age 50 for those with a family history of colon cancer or certain other risk factors."
"Immunizations are not just for kids; they are important for women (and men) of all ages. They save lives and prevent hospitalizations," Doggett explains. "A flu shot is recommended for everyone, every year." Tetanus shots, HPV vaccinations, and the new Shingrix vaccine (which guards against shingles) are also important immunizations, she adds.
Review your family planning/contraceptive choices
Both women and men of childbearing age should discuss family planning and contraception with their physicians, according to Dr. Doggett. "Questions to ask include: What are the different options for contraception, and what might make sense for me? If applicable: I want to delay having kids; at what point do I risk not being able to conceive? What are the other risks I might face by waiting? (A huge issue today is that women are delaying having kids until it is often too late. Asking the right questions early may help avoid this problem)."
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"Developing a daily (or almost daily) exercise routine can do more to improve health than any medication. Most authorities recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week," Doggett says. "I like to exercise first thing in the morning before another activity gets in the way. It's a great way to start the day, leaving me with more energy and a sense of accomplishment. Make exercise fun with a good workout mix, fun group class, an audiobook, or exercising with a friend."
"Women may be more susceptible than men to the harmful effects of smoking, which dramatically increases the risk of heart disease, multiple kinds of cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (or emphysema), among other conditions," Doggett points out. "I often tell my patients who smoke, 'Stopping smoking is the most important thing you can do for your health.'"
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Eat a mostly plant-based diet
"A healthy diet is linked to a longer and healthier life. It has been shown to lower the rates of cancer and many chronic diseases. It may even improve mood and overall quality of life," Doggett reveals. "Aim for at least five servings a day of fruits and veggies and avoid fried food and most 'fast food.'"
Maintain a healthy weight
"Weight is a touchy subject in our culture, and losing weight is a tremendous challenge for so many women. But aside from the cultural pressures and body image issues, which are problematic, reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is important for your health," Doggett says. "Being overweight significantly increases the risk of cancer and many chronic diseases, and it can reduce life expectancy and quality of life."
Don't drink too much alcohol
"For women, drinking no more than one drink a day (one beer, one regular glass of wine, or equivalent) is recommended," according to Doggett. "Larger amounts of alcohol have been linked to liver disease and many forms of cancer."
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Avoid toxic chemicals in your home
"So many of the chemicals used in everyday products are not well tested, so we just don't know if they are really safe for our health," Doggett says. "Don't go overboard with paranoia, but there are basic steps you can take to avoid toxic chemicals: Don't reheat food in plastic containers, don't buy clothes that have to be dry-cleaned, and learn about the ingredients of your cosmetics and household cleaning products so you can make informed choices."
Don't do drugs
"This advice seems so obvious, but it is worth [mentioning] because unfortunately too many women ignore it. Street drugs - like cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin - are very addictive and can lead to a wide array of physical and mental health problems and early death," Doggett explains. "But even certain prescription drugs - like long-term use of opioids for non-cancer pain, long-term use of benzodiazepines (like Xanax and Valium), and certain muscle relaxants like Soma - are addictive and dangerous."
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Get enough sleep
"Aim for at least seven hours a night and try sticking to a regular routine. Avoid caffeine or exercise too close to bedtime," Doggett says. "If you're lying in bed tossing and turning for more than 15-20 minutes, get up, go to another room in your home, and do a quiet activity (that does not involve technology) until you start to feel tired and can try to sleep again."
Build your support circle
"Injury and illness are often unpredictable. Having a group of friends and relatives who can help when you need extra support is critical," Doggett believes. "To build your own support circle, become a part of the support circle for other people."
"Spending time outdoors, especially in a park or green space, may improve health and a sense of well-being," Doggett says. "Walking or hiking in a natural setting is also great exercise."
"Though there are many wonderful forms of meditation, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a powerful form of meditation that teaches you to be more aware of the present moment," Doggett explains. "For me, MBSR meditation has been an important tool to deal with insomnia, stress, and anxiety. But it also can help with pain, depression, and many other problems."
Keep a journal
"Journaling is a great way to process events and emotions - it can help you track symptoms, if you have health concerns," Doggett says. "But I think it is a great tool for anyone seeking more personal insight."
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Eat nuts for anxiety
"Brazil nuts contain selenium, which helps to fight anxiety, tiredness and irritability," according to registered holistic nutritionist Julie Mancuso. "Munch on these throughout the day to top up this all-important mineral."
Eliminate refined sugar from your diet
"Say goodbye to refined sugar and you shall reap the benefits: no raised insulin level, no energy roller-coasters, fewer calories and less belly fat," Mancuso says. "Use stevia, a natural sweetener, to sweeten coffee because it has zero calories, zero carbs and a non-glycemic response. It's also ideal for those looking to drop a few pounds."
"Let the beauty beware! Consume zinc, because a deficiency in this mineral impairs the immune system, which results in acne and the thinning of hair," Mancuso advises. "Beta carotene-rich foods such as carrots and sweet potatoes can help your complexion. Optimum nutrition is paramount to keep you beautiful."
Magnesium for sleep
Mancuso suggests taking magnesium before bedtime. "It helps with sleep, it's great for bone health and it may help relieve premenstrual symptoms, anxiety and migraines," she says.
Avoid takeout and prep your meals
"Prepare meal staples on the weekend and just heat them up during the week. This way you'll avoid unhealthy food impulse purchases, especially when you're run-down," Mancuso explains. "Besides, cooking at home allows you to be in control of the ingredients that go into your food."
Mancuso suggests taking a probiotic daily. "In addition to promoting gut health, probiotics may prevent and treat vaginal infections and boost the immune system."
Eat chicken when you're sick
"When cooked, chicken releases an amino acid called cysteine, which fights congestion and mucus," Mancuso says. "Chicken soup being good for you when you're sick is not an old wives' tale."
Fight depression with vitamin D
"Vitamin D has been shown to regulate mood and fight depression. As such it can help beat seasonal affective disorder," Mancuso explains. "Be sure to take a vitamin D supplement, especially in the fall and winter, if you happen to live where the sun doesn't shine much."
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Avoid sugary cocktails
"Avoid vodka coolers, sweet wines and heavy cocktails - they are calorie bombs loaded with spoonfuls of sugar, and they contribute to weight gain," Mancuso advises. "Instead choose dry, low-sugar red or white wine, or alternately, vodka, gin or whisky - no mixers. Drink it neat."
Create a sacred space
"A sacred space provides the inspiration to overcome the social, emotional, and spiritual blocks that may be preventing you from moving forward," holistic health practitioner (AADP) Sarah Anne Stewart says. "It becomes a 'safe-sanctuary' where you can feel at peace. You can escape from the pressures of the outside world in your sacred space, release anxiety about your goals, and get back to your ultimate truth."
"Try to incorporate a vigorous yoga flow into your day to align your mind and body. It's important to stay active to bring heat to your vital organs," Stewart says. "Practice a yoga sequence with plenty of sun salutations to awaken yourself both physically and mentally."
Watch a movie or take a warm bath
"This is a great way to cultivate lightness and humor in your home and within your relationship with yourself. Invite joy into your life by snuggling up for a funny movie or taking a long bubble bath," suggests Stewart. "Not only will these fun activities fight off any blues you may be feeling, they will also support you energetically and help establish warmth in your relationship with yourself."
Disconnect from technology
"Instead of looking at other people and what they're doing, establish a quiet state of mind, so you can make decisions that are best for yourself," Stewart says. "You will be inspired, your energy and vibration will shift, and you will begin to feel gratitude for the smallest things without needing to compare yourself to others or feel distracted."
Spend time with an incredible community
"Having the ability to become part of an incredible community - people who are working towards similar goals right along with you - is incredibly powerful," Stewart reveals. "Others in the community will praise you when you do well, encourage you when you feel hopeless, and help point you in the right direction when you get off track. The power within you is always guiding you; sometimes you just need a bit of help (and positive friends) to harness it."
Take a break or vacation
"Spending time outside of your normal realm and allowing yourself to stop over-thinking in a world of constant information is often one of the most difficult things to do, yet it is one of the most important things to learn for your well-being," Stewart says. "This will allow you to open up to a sacred space of healing which welcomes happiness and empowers you to make better decisions when it comes to yourself and your life."
"You are never going to get rid of fear completely. So instead, you must harness the energy behind that fear and embrace it," Stewart explains. "We often feel afraid of the things about which we care most. Understand that fear usually occurs when you are about to do something you have never done."
Use visualizations and daily affirmations
"Several times a day, count backward from 10, being mindful of relaxing and visualizing your goals. If your mind drifts, just focus on the counting backgrounds from 10," Stewart says. "Also, using daily affirmations throughout the day, including ones of gratitude for what you already have in your life, help you create a new state of awareness."
Emphasize positive thoughts, feelings, energy and people
"Do you ever wonder why hardships happen repeatedly to the same people? They vibrate from a level of negativity, and it brings forth more and more negativity," Stewart says. "Surround yourself with the people who believe in your vision and goals. We are not alone in the creation of our thoughts, so choose to surround yourself with only people who will celebrate with you when you manifest your dreams."
Live beyond current circumstances
According to Stewart, "Money, time, work, etc. can all drag you down and make you feel trapped in your present reality. You have to live beyond what you have now and believe in what you can become. As the Law of Attraction states, living within the mindset of the future version of you helps the future come to you."
"Our cells and our brains need lots of water to stay nourished and functioning at their optimal," according to certified professional lifestyle and mindfulness coach Wade Brill. "Drinking a minimum 8 ounces of water is crucial for your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing."
Cook with love
"While you cook, cook with the mantra of love. Each chop, mince or stir gets to be an act of love," Brill says. "Appreciate the process of cooking and remember that each bite you are feeding yourself and others is pure love that helps you feel strong, keeps you breathing and gives you energy."
Reflect to connect and direct
"Each morning, pause to connect to your top three values by writing them down," suggests Brill. "Start your day by directing your energy towards what you want to create so that you can have focus and vibrancy."
Be your best friend, not your own enemy
"When feeling sad or sluggish, tell yourself 'I love you,' and bring compassion to the moment. Repeat the words to yourself in your head or say it out loud in front of a mirror," Brill says. "You can even try giving yourself a physical hug. Drop the negative chatter and treat yourself with love and kindness - just how you would treat your best friend."
Understand the power of your words
"We sometimes forget how much power the words we say affect our well-being. Words such as 'have to' and 'need to' are constantly used to describe the daily activities we perform," Brill explains. "Instead of feeling trapped or imprisoned by your language, feel inspired and own the actions that you get to take."
Eat 5 varieties of vegetables a day
"You are what you eat. Get your variety of nutrients and energy from quality produce," Brill says. "Keep it interesting, fun and nutritious by eating a variety of color and texture. Use this tip while at salad bars, planning your shopping list or ordering food."
Bake fresh, then freeze
"Keep yourself in balance by baking your own sweet treats and snacks instead of buying packaged foods that are filled with gross ingredients," Brill recommends. "Freeze what you make so they stay longer. You are less likely to over-indulge when they are out of sight and out of mind."
Create a mealtime ritual
"Create a ritual before the start of every meal to help you transition into re-fueling," Brill says. "Whether it be saying a sentence of gratitude, thinking of someone you love or simply feeling your feet on the ground. Pause with full awareness so that you can be present and fully appreciate and taste your meal."
Switch it up to pump it up
"Don't get stuck in the same fitness routine. Mix up your schedule by adding a new weight routine, allowing a friend to introduce you to a new class or challenging yourself to a new goal," Brill says. "Explore what happens when you step outside the routine."
Use walking as a gateway drug for fitness
"If you are new to the world of exercise, start small by adding more walking into your life," Brill says. "Once you get those endorphins flowing and feel more connected to your body, you will eventually crave more strength and cardio. Shift your mindset to just getting your steps in. The rest will follow with time."
Engage a stranger
Brill explains: "When commuting on public transit, standing in line at the coffee shop or in an elevator, try stepping outside your world and asking someone how they are? Mean it. Open your heart and allow yourself to connect - no matter the outcome. Notice the positive energy you are spreading!"
Clean your brain
"Sleep is one of the most powerful tools to clean and clear the plaque buildup in your brain - literally and physiologically," Brill believes. "Get your nightly rest to practice mental hygiene so you can stay clean, fresh and sharp during your day."
Schedule YOU time
Brill says that you should schedule at least 30 minutes of non-negotiable YOU time every day. "Whether you get to wake up super early to receive it, take a break in the middle of your workday or stay up later, schedule in that self-care time. It gets to be filled with whatever you want, but only you get to decide and dictate," Brill adds. A daily dose of self-care is just one of the many healthy habits you can do every day that will keep you feeling your best.
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