Women's Health: 5 Healthy Resolutions for Women (cont.)

Even very busy women can do resistance training and aerobic exercise, as they do not necessarily require a visit to a fitness center. "If you can't get to the gym, what can you do today to be more active?" asks Saralyn Mark, MD, senior medical adviser for the Office on Women's Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Can it be walking a little bit further in the parking lot, and using the stairs, or raking your leaves?"

"There's a lot you can do with just what is around you," says Mark. "The best part is that you don't have to get into a fancy gym outfit. You can be comfortable and you can do it while you're watching the news."

New Year's Resolution No. 3: Guard Against the Bone Thief

This may not sound like a popular health resolution, but it is a crucial one for women and girls of all ages.

"Many women feel that when they're not babies anymore, they don't have to worry about their bones, but it's quite the contrary."

"A lot of women feel that when they're not babies anymore, they don't have to worry about their bones, but it's quite the contrary," says Taub-Dix. "Watching calcium in your diet even as a young child or teen is very important, because that is the setup for what your bones may look like later on in life."

Osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disease, is major public health threat for 44 million Americans, 68% of whom are women, according to the National Institute of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases. One out of every two women over 50 years old will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in her lifetime.

To help prevent osteoporosis, Taub-Dix suggests getting at least three servings of dairy a day. Healthy sources of dairy include skim milk, low-fat cheeses, and yogurt. There are also nondairy options for calcium, such as canned salmon with bones, dark green vegetables, dried beans, and calcium-fortified juices and cereals. Calcium supplements can also help women meet their recommended daily intake.

Calcium recommendations for women:

  • From age 11 to 24, between 1,200 and 1,500 milligrams daily
  • From age 25 to 50, 1,000 milligrams daily
  • For postmenopausal women 1,000-1,500 milligrams daily if on menopausal hormone therapy
  • For pregnant and breastfeeding women, 1,200-1,500 milligrams daily

Weight-bearing exercises, which use gravity to put pressure on the bones, can also help strengthen bones. Examples include walking, running, aerobics, and dancing. Resistance-training exercises are also valuable as they help enhance muscle mass and bone strength.

Be aware that certain foods and medications may help weaken bones. There is some evidence that soda drinking can contribute to bone loss, primarily because many soda drinkers tend not to drink milk. Research also shows nicotine can slow down bone cell production and cause faster bone loss.

"It's important that you talk with your doctor about how much calcium you get in your diet, whether you smoke cigarettes, your family history, whether you've been on Depo-Provera, or you've had a history of other diseases that have required you to be on steroids or thyroid medications," says Mark.

The FDA recently issued a strong warning about potential bone density loss with use of the contraceptive Depo-Provera. Use of steroids and an overactive thyroid have also been associated with weak and thinning bones.

New Year's Resolution No. 4: Take Health Exams and Get an "A" for Good Health

Making a point to be up-to-date on health screenings may not sound sexy, but the tests could help you live longer and healthier.

An osteoporosis test is ideal at age 65, or for women between 60 and 64 who weigh 154 pounds or less, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. It is also important to get tested if this problem runs in your family.

There are other important health exams for women, and the optimal benefits usually correspond with certain age groups. Mammograms, for example, screen for breast cancer, a disease with a risk that increases after age 40. Consequently, the Task Force recommends that mammograms be performed every one or two years beginning at 40.

Pap smears, which screen for cervical cancer, are recommended every one to three years for women who are sexually active, or older than 21.

Starting at 50, testing for colorectal cancer is also important. The disease more often strikes older men and women.

Other important areas of screening for women include blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, depression, and sexually transmitted diseases.

There are risks to every exam, including the possibility of an inaccurate report. Overall, though, experts say they play an invaluable role in good health. "Screenings can't prevent anything, but they can make treatment more effective," says Cindy Pearson, executive director of the National Women's Health Network.

New Year's Resolution No. 5: Move Center Stage

Women are well-known caretakers and jugglers of several tasks at once. With responsibilities concerning home, work, and children, there just aren't enough hours to do all that needs done. The result: many women feel frazzled, frustrated, and forlorn.

The mere thought of taking time to take care of themselves sends ripples of guilt through many women. Where does one find the time for self-care?

Make the time, says Mark. Research shows stress can wreak havoc on health. It's not unusual for the stressed to have stomachaches, diarrhea, increased appetite, and weight gain. Constant stress can also compromise the immune system, making people more vulnerable to colds and other infections. The pressure can also aggravate illnesses, produce anxiety and depression, disrupt valuable sleep, decrease sex drive, and raise blood pressure.

The list of negative consequences goes on and on. But women do not have to be victims, or they can try to change unpleasant situations.

Peter A. Wish, PhD, a psychologist in Sarasota, Fla., suggests identifying stresses, prioritizing them according to importance, and then tackling them one at a time. He recommends starting with an easy objective, and then moving on to another minigoal. "It starts with something that you can be successful at, and nothing succeeds like success," he says. "It reinforces you to keep going."