All women should make their health a priority and take simple steps to live safer and healthier lives, especially during May, Women’s Health Month, said Janette R. Wheat, PhD.

Wheat is the Cooperative Extension Program human development specialist and associate professor of human development and family studies at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Topping the list of healthy behaviors is eating healthy, Wheat said. And, the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) agree. Healthy diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases; provide essential vitamins, minerals and fiber; and they are naturally low in fat and calories.

Second is moving more. Both Wheat and the CDC recommend a minimum of two and a half hours of moderate physical activity a week. It helps control weight; reduces risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome, and the risk of some cancers; strengthens bones and muscles; improves mental health and mood; and prevents falls and increases chances of living longer.

Third is sleeping well. Insufficient sleep is associated with chronic diseases and conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. Consider the CDC sleep guidelines which recommend seven to nine hours for adults 18-64 years old.

Managing stress is essential. One must have the skills to cope with and adapt to new and potentially threatening life situations. Beneficial aspects of stress diminish when the stress gets severe enough to overwhelm the ability to take care of one’s self and family. Among the best ways to manage stress is through self-care such as avoiding drugs and alcohol, finding support, connecting socially and staying active.

Know and share the family health history, the written or graphic record of the diseases and health conditions present in the family. Family history may influence one’s health and the risk of chronic disease. It could be important in determining a person’s and their child’s health risks, Wheat said.

Pregnancy is another concern for women.

“Share your love by planning your next pregnancy and engaging in healthy behavior before becoming pregnant. All women can benefit from preconception health whether or not they plan to have a baby one day because preconception health is about getting and staying healthy throughout their lives,” officials said.

The following are 10 healthy habits for women from Wheat and the CDC:

• Make a plan and take action.

• See a doctor. Have a yearly checkup. Get medical conditions and lifestyle behaviors under control and get up to date on vaccinations.

• Take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. It is needed for healthy new cells the body makes daily – skin, hair and nails. Folic acid helps prevent major birth defects of a baby’s brain and spine if the woman becomes pregnant.

• Stop smoking, using certain drugs and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

• Avoid toxic substances which include synthetic chemicals, metals, fertilizer, bug spray, cat or rodent feces. These can hurt reproductive systems of men and women.

• Reach and maintain a healthy weight.

• Get help for violence.

• Learn the family history.

• Get mentally healthy. Everyone feels worried, anxious, sad or stressed sometimes. If these feelings interfere with daily life, get help.

• Plan pregnancy. No one expects an unplanned pregnancy, but it happens often. About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, according to the CDC.

Wheat urges all women to make their health a priority.

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