It can be a real juggling act
As work, family, and social obligations increasingly compete for our time, our days get busier and our stress levels get higher. Surely women’s liberation was not meant for us to simply exchange one kind of shackle for another?
“We have paid a big price for our emancipation,” says Dr Lynne Coleman, who has been working as a general practitioner/sports doctor for many years. “Women suffer from stress from different sources than men, ie work and home, caring for children, worrying about teenagers, elderly parents etc.
"We have to juggle career development with our biological clocks, all the time aware that we’re a pivotal part of our family’s life, arguably the linchpin. It’s important that we take time for ourselves and our health needs."
Research has shown that working activity into your daily life can be as effective as a structured exercise programme in improving long-term cardio-respiratory fitness and blood pressure.
“Exercise lifts your mood, boosts your self-esteem and reduces your stress,” says Lynne. ‘’If you make exercising a priority, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much better you will be at managing life’s tasks. In the long run, the time you invest in exercise, even in small amounts, will reap rewards.”
Alcohol and cigarettes
Alcohol and cigarettes may feel like relaxants, but the long-term effects are detrimental to your health, particularly for women who drink large quantities in one go.
“There are many health impacts on women when alcohol is consumed hazardously. Links with heavy drinking and breast cancer have been made; irreversible disability in the form of foetal alcohol syndrome can result from drinking during pregnancy; and binge drinking creates a whole host of problems.”
If you’d like more information on women and alcohol visit www.alac.org.nz/women.aspx
According to the Ministry of Health in 2011 18% of women in New Zealand smoke. Every cigarette you smoke contains around 4000 chemicals.
Just one or two cigarettes a day is more than enough to cause lung cancer. If you smoke while taking the contraceptive pill, your risk of heart disease is 30 times that of a non-smoker. If you’d like help with quitting, call Quitline: 0800 778 778.
Lynne says it’s important that we develop a network of help. “We try to be superwomen – the perfect wife, mother, worker, as well as look perfect. We should realise we need partnerships that can help us achieve our goals, and we are not solely responsible for child rearing, running the household, cooking meals, or weeding the garden.”
If you don’t have partner-support, look around for friends and family members who will help. There are many women who will be happy to set up a barter system – exchanging babysitting and school pick-ups for, perhaps, transport for extra-curricular activities and help with groceries.
A huge part of keeping healthy, of course, is eating well. Our lifestyle is so rushed that we eat on the run, not at all, or pick the easy option of fast-food takeaways.
The key to achieving and sustaining a healthy weight, says the online weight management support programme (www.weightcoach.co.nz) is the balance of energy intake (what we eat) and energy expenditure (our activity).
Prevailing wisdom is that there are no quick fixes or shortcuts to good nutrition. It is a lifestyle choice.
Lynne says it also seems to be fashionable, particularly among younger women, to be vegetarian. Her advice is to consult a dietitian about an adequate iron intake.
“Women need to acknowledge that they need iron when menstruating regularly and be responsible about this. The recommended levels depend on age and activity levels, but approximately 15mg daily is essential for adult menstruating women.”
Change of Life
As women approach their 40s, they may notice short term memory loss, irritability, hot flushes and irregular periods. This could indicate the onset of menopause. The age your mother or older sisters began menopause can have a bearing on when this “natural change” will begin. The symptoms that accompany menopause, however, may feel anything but natural, and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is sometimes considered a remedy.
However, before HRT is initiated or continued women should understand that its use is associated with an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, stroke and breast cancer. These risks increase with age and duration of use. Additionally, in women aged 65 years and older, HRT use is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. Make an informed decision about HRT. Talk to your GP.
The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation, recommends regular self-checks of breasts from the age of 20 and suggests it can be done in the shower or in front of a mirror.
Self-checks are a good way for women to get to know your breast tissue, so that they can be alert to changes over time. It’s also a good way of identifying any changes or lumps that may occur between mammograms.
Currently in New Zealand women aged between 45 and 70 are eligible for a free mammogram every two years. Call Breast Screen Aotearoa 0800 270 200 for more details.
Your family history will dictate at what age and how often you have tests done (eg cholesterol, cervical smear, mammogram), so it’s best to address these issues at your annual medical “Warrant of Fitness.”
It’s at the WOFs too, that incontinence can be addressed. In New Zealand there’s a one-in-four prevalence (one in three for pregnant women) of incontinence and most women don’t seek help because they think it’s “normal for women”– especially after childbirth.
Women should regularly exercise their pelvic floor, which is the layer of muscle stretching from the pubic bone in the front to the tail bone at the back and forming the floor of the pelvis. Like any muscle, the more you exercise it the better it will function. Visit the New Zealand Continence Association website (www.continence.org.nz) or call 0800 650 659 for more information on help with bladder problems.