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4 health mantras for the new-age woman

Dr Roopa Nishi Viswanathan | September 26, 2005

September 24 was officially celebrated as International Girl Child Day.

What happens when the little girl blossoms into a young woman? She has a career to follow, a home to tend, parents to care for, kids to groom, hobbies to pursue and a full life to lead.

Hence, one of the top priorities for every young woman today is good health, so she can cope with all of life's challenges. 

Here's a list of four things you must do to stay healthy, strong and focused.

imageA power-packed diet

Lessen the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer by reducing fat consumption and increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. 

Though you don't need to worry about osteoporosis this early, you can always start on the preventive measures. Strengthen your bones through a good diet.

Boost your health with these five 'wonder foods':

Skimmed milk: With all the goodness and calcium of milk minus the sinful fat, this one is perfect for weight watchers.

Yogurt: Another rich source of calcium. Moreover, the bacteria in the yogurt protects you from some intestinal infections too.

Meat: Iron deficiency anaemia is extremely common in young women. Choose lean meat to load up on iron without loading up on the fat. Vegans can opt for green leafy veggies.

Beans, peas and lentils: Apart from vegetable protein, fibre, magnesium, zinc, copper and iron, these are high in folic acid as well. Folic acid significantly reduces the risk of neural tube defects in a developing foetus.

Fruits: These are good sources of Vitamin C and fibre. An apple a day might actually keep the doctor away. You must also have raisins, peaches and oranges. Bananas are a good source of potassium.

Expertspeak: Saroja Woruganti, a practicing dietician, has some sound advice for young women. She says, "Most women need 1,000-1,200 milligrammes of calcium per day. Increase your intake of calcium-rich foods, such as dairy products and leafy green vegetables. Enhance your intake of iron and folic acid before you get pregnant. I advise women who are on a diet or have hectic lives to take a multivitamin multi-mineral supplement everyday but this should not be considered a substitute to a complete diet."

Practise these fitness fundas

~ Incorporating more physical activity into your schedule will help you stay fit. For example, taking the stairs instead of the elevator can really burn those calories.

~ Watch your weight. Use a Body Mass Index calculator to check if you are within the limit for your age.

~ Joining a gym can help if you are one of those who need motivation. Remember that only a combination of diet and exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight. Believe it or not, exercise is a big fatigue-buster too.

Expertspeak: Michelle Lane, a fitness expert with a Bangalore-based gym, says, "If your schedule is hectic and you get no gym time, you can still exercise in the comfort of your home. Get weights of two to five kilogrammes and work on your arms while you are watching television or reading the newspaper. Better still, buy an aerobics video and do a 20 minute workout every morning."

Destress your life

Every once in a while, put the brakes on and relax. 
 
Eat chocolate: Chocolate has chemicals that can help reduce stress and calm you down. When you feel low, you could pop a couple of pieces; however, do not go overboard. Those added inches will only add to your stress.

Get a soak: A warm water bath with scented oils can relieve your cares and let you drift off into sleep effortlessly. Aromatherapy is the way to go. If you do not have a tub, you could pour a few drops into your bucket of bath water. Lavender is your best bet.

Learn to say 'no': Do not take on more responsibility than you can handle. Too many commitments add to your stress levels.

~ Get away: When all else fails, take a short vacation with your girlfriends where there is no boss to breathe down your neck, no crowded public transport to battle and, best of all, no cooking and cleaning!

Expertspeak: Psychologist Dr Renu Ranade, who counsels many young people with symptoms of depression, has this advice to soothe frayed nerves, "Get at least six to eight hours of sleep each night. At work, surround yourself with pictures of family. Snapshots of happy moments can make you feel good when you have the blues. At the risk of sounding trite, I must say most women find that a haircut, a manicure, a pedicure or a facial can do wonders for their spirits. Yoga is a definite stressbuster." 

Keep a check on your health

~ A physical examination is a must every year.

~ If you are planning to get pregnant, make sure you stop your contraceptive pills a year in advance.

~ Cut down on smoking and drinking. Get help if you are not motivated enough.

~ When you visit your doctor, remember to discuss contraception and how to protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases.

~ Use sunscreens with a Sun Protection Factor of at least 15 to protect against ultraviolet rays that can age your skin and cause skin cancer.

Expertspeak: "More than half of all pregnancies are unplanned. If you are sexually active and fertile, it is time to establish healthy habits in case you become pregnant. Only barrier contraception also offers a shield against sexually transmitted diseases. Women who want to protect themselves from STDs must insist their partners use a condom," says gynaecologist Dr Anjali Rajurkar from KEM Hospital, Mumbai.

Your guide on what tests to take and when:

  • Check your weight every month (checking too often can be counterproductive and lead to unwarranted worries).
  • A breast self-exam is recommended once a year. The main thing to look for is any suspicious lump anywhere in your breasts and in your armpits.
  • Once in your thirties, it is a good idea to get regular mammograms (usually once in two years), especially if you are at high risk for breast cancer (you could be at risk if, for example, you have a family history of breast cancer).
  • Get a pap smear every three years and a cholesterol check every five years. The Pap Smear test is for a virus that which eventually can cause cervical cancer (cancer of the cervix) and is done at most big hospitals. If you are not sure where to get it done, check with your doctor.
  • If you are at risk for certain diseases or have family history of some ailments, appropriate regular tests might be necessary. For instance, if your family has a history of diabetes, then you should monitor your blood sugar levels regularly by getting an annual blood test done.

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