Someone once said, "If you educate a woman, you educate a family." Yet, while women have always addressed the health needs of family members, too often they neglect their own needs. The twin keys to good health are prevention and early detection. it is fat less costly and less painful, to prevent disease than to treat it. Of the two million deaths that occur each year in the United States, about half are preventable. While women generally live longer than men, too many women die prematurely from tragedies like lung cancer and heart disease.
Don't become a statistic. By taking personal responsibility for your health , you can prevent injuries and many debilitating diseases. How? By getting regular check-ups and preventive screenings. And, by incorporating some relatively simple tasks into your daily life -- like physical activity and good nutrition -- you can head off danger, instead of gambling with risks. Here are a few important reminders.
Stay Tobacco-Free. Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death among American women. In fact, more than 140,000 women die each year from tobacco-related illnesses. Staying away from tobacco can drastically reduce your chances of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and a number of other chronic health problems. If you don't smoke, don't start. If you do, stop right now -- it's never too late to quit.
Fight Breast Cancer. About 44,000 women die from breast cancer each year, but with early detection, you can find cancerous lumps before diseased cells spread. That can sometimes make the difference between life and death. So get regular clinical examinations. Examine your breasts every month. And get regular mammograms. Talk to your doctor about when to start. Remember, mammograms begin at 40. and, if you are enrolled in Medicare, it will help pay for your mammogram. For more information about breast cancer and the names and locations of FDA-certified mammogram facilities, call 1-800-4CANCER.
Protect Yourself from STDs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that women account for an increasing percentage of newly reported AIDS cases. Take every precaution against AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Sexually transmitted diseases often show no symptoms in women and can lead to infertility or cervical cancer. So get regular pap tests and ask your doctor if you should be tested for STDs.
Eat Right. Eating right doesn't mean starving yourself. It means It means eating a balanced diet high in grains, vegetables and fruits and low in fat and cholesterol. And, it means getting enough calcium to prevent osteoporosis -- a crippling disease that makes brittle bones susceptible to fractures. Read the food labels and make good nutrition a lifelong habit. It can improve your health and reduce your chances of premature death from heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
Get Active. Say active. Take time out from your daily routine to get active. Physical Activity and Health: a Report of the Surgeon General recommends regular moderate physical activity for 30 minutes a day at least five days a week. That means you don't have to train like an Olympic athlete to enjoy the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Walking, bicycling, or even gardening for 30 minutes, most of the days of the week can save your health and maybe even your life.
Use Medicine Wisely. Up to 50 percent of people who take medicines don't use them as directed. And that takes a toll on our nation's health and costs us about $20 billion each year. So follow your medication instructions carefully. Keep track of all of the medications you are taking. And if you have any questions ask your doctor or pharmacist for help.
by Donna E. Shalala, Ph.D.
Secretary of Health and Human Resources