Celebrate National Women’s Health Week With a Checkup for Body and Mind

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When was the last time you had a checkup?

As we celebrate National Women’s Health Week, which begins every year on Mother’s Day, women are being urged to make a promise to take care of themselves by pledging to have a well-woman exam, eat well, get active and to take care of their mental health.

Research has shown that taking care of our physical health can have profound implications for our mental health. For example, studies reveal that exercise and proper nutrition play a huge role in brain functioning. The Harvard School of Public Health has found that women whose diets include foods that trigger brain inflammation—like sugar-sweetened or diet soft drinks, refined grains, red meat and margarine—and fewer foods that restrain inflammation—like green leafy and yellow vegetables, olive oil and coffee—have up to a 41 percent greater risk of being diagnosed with depression than those who eat the less inflammatory diet. We also know that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, halibut, some plants and nut oils, are effective in the treatment of depression.

Moving on to exercise, unless you’ve somehow managed to tune out the avalanche of news over the last few decades touting the brain benefits of a physical work out, you already know exercise has a dramatic antidepressant effect.

“Research shows that one of the best ways to prevent and treat depression is exercise,” said Dr. David Sack, an addiction and mental health specialist and CEO at Elements Behavioral Health. “Even just 30 minutes three days a week can boost energy and mood.”

No Shame

So you see, by taking care of your body, in many ways you’re automatically caring for your mind. However, it’s key during your well-woman exam that you are honest with your doctor about any mental health problems you may be experiencing. Mental health disorders are diseases of the brain. You should feel no more shame in discussing depression than a pain in your back. One in five women in the United States has a mental illness ranging from mild to serious. Women are more likely than men to suffer from anxiety, and are more than twice as likely as men to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. You’re not alone. Talk to your doctor.

A terrific way for women who smoke to mark National Women’s Health Week is to take steps to quit. One of the most dangerous things a woman can do to her body is to smoke cigarettes. According to the American Lung Association, smoking kills an estimated 173,940 women in the United States every year. Although fewer women smoke than men, the percentage difference between the two has continued to decrease. Today, with a much smaller gap between men’s and women’s smoking rates, women share a much larger burden of smoking-related diseases.

Of course, quitting smoking is known to have benefits for our physical well-being, including a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease, but new research at the Washington University School of Medicine shows that kicking the habit is also associated with better mental health.

Related: Kick the Habit: 10 Scientific Quit-Smoking Tips

“Clinicians tend to treat the depression, alcohol dependence or drug problem first and allow patients to ‘self-medicate’ with cigarettes,” said lead investigator Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg in a news release. “The assumption is that psychiatric problems are more challenging to treat and that quitting smoking may interfere with treatment.”

But the researchers found that quitting smoking altogether or reducing by half the number of cigarettes smoked each day was tied to a lower risk for mood disorders like depression, as well as a lower likelihood of alcohol and drug problems.

Your doctor can help you quit through the use of smoking cessation medications — another topic for your well-woman visit.

In urging women to get an annual checkup, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a website where women can pledge to take the time to take care of themselves. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, an annual exam is considered a preventive service and must be covered by most health plans free of charge. Screenings, whether for physical or mental health issues, can find diseases early, when they are easier to treat.

Here Are Some Tips for Staying Well in Body and Mind:

  • Do activities you enjoy each day.
  • Take the time to meditate — it can be done anywhere.
  • Engage friends in exercise and healthy eating. Involving other people makes you try harder.
  • Have an animal friend. Studies have found that playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
  • Join a book club, a service club, a bridge club or other social group. It’s a great way to get out and talk to people.
  • Volunteer in your neighborhood or coach youth sports.
  • Improve sleep. Studies show an association between short sleep duration and excess body weight.

These are small steps that will propel you forward to better health. Join Elements Behavioral Health in supporting National Women’s Health Week. Get on the map. Pledge today to have your well-woman exam and make your health a priority.


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