Family Health: A few important steps can lower women’s health risks

The path to staying healthy follows the same route for men and for women – most of the way. We all need to eat healthy foods, get plenty of exercise and avoid cigarettes, for starters. But women of all ages have unique health issues that set them apart.

Some of these are obvious – pregnancy and menopause, for example. Others are common to both sexes but pose different risks. Here are some areas where women need to take particular care:

  • Bone health. While both men and women can develop osteoporosis, it’s much more common among women after menopause. Strong bones start at an early age with a diet that provides plenty of calcium, from dairy products or enriched foods. Many children and adults should also take a vitamin D supplement to ensure calcium is absorbed. Weight-bearing exercise makes bones stronger, so stay active as you age.
  • Joint health. Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is more common in women than men. It causes joint pain, stiffness and swelling, usually in older adults. Injuries can also lead to osteoarthritis, and so can being overweight. Staying physically active can help prevent this condition, and so can maintaining a healthy weight. If you already have osteoarthritis, losing just a few pounds can help relieve hip or knee pain.
  • Heart health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both sexes. However, women are less likely than men to call 911 for symptoms of a heart attack and more likely to die when they have one. A heart-healthy diet and exercise (get tips from the American Heart Association at www.heart.org) can lower your risks, but you should know how to recognize a heart attack. Get help right away if you have any of these symptoms:
  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, your back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.