National Women's Health Week begins on Mother’s Day

News Release Distributed 05/01/09

Mother’s Day launches the 10th annual National Women's Health Week to educate women about steps they can take to improve their physical and mental health and lower their risks of certain diseases.

The May 10-16 observance is coordinated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health (OWH). LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames lists some of the important steps OWH recommends for better health.

– Each week, get at least 2½ hours (30 minutes a day) of moderate physical activity such as walking at a brisk pace, ballroom dancing or leisurely bicycling; and get 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity, such as jogging, running, bicycling fast or uphill, swimming continuous laps or a combination of these activities.

– Eat a nutritious diet, as offered by the U.S. Department of Agricultures’ MyPyramid food plans.

– Visit a health-care professional for regular checkups and preventive screenings.

– Avoiding risky behaviors, like smoking and not wearing a seatbelt.

– Pay attention to mental health, including getting enough sleep and managing stress.

Reames says eating healthfully is one of the most important things women can do to achieve and maintain good health. Even if you have not eaten nutritiously in the past, you can make changes in your diet that will help you have more energy and lower your risk of disease.

Women, on average, require fewer calories than men, but their need for other nutrients is just as high. Men need more calories than women because women are usually smaller and have a higher fat percentage and less muscle than men. More calories are needed to maintain muscle than fat.

Reames says calcium is one of the nutrients that could be lacking in women's diets that is linked to health problems. Low calcium intake can lead to bone fractures and osteoporosis. Women are at higher risk than men for osteoporosis. This risk occurs because women, compared with men, generally consume less calcium, have smaller bodies and bone mass and live longer. The hormonal changes occurring after menopause also accelerate bone loss.

“The good news is you can reduce your risk of osteoporosis by getting enough calcium, vitamin D and weight-bearing exercise,” Reames says, adding, “This is especially important for young girls between the ages of 8 and 16 when most bone density is formed, a process that continues until around age 35.”

Getting adequate calcium and vitamin D is essential for women of all ages – even after menopause. Eating calcium-rich foods results in slower bone loss.

Daily calcium needs for an adult woman are approximately 1,000 milligrams. After age 50, the need increases to 1,200 milligrams. Some nutrition experts estimate that just one in 25 women older than 60 consumes enough calcium.

Milk and yogurt are convenient and easy-to-consume sources of calcium and protein that promote healthy bones and teeth. Three cups of milk supply about 900 milligrams of calcium. Besides dairy products, good sources of calcium are calcium-fortified cereals and soy drinks, tofu made with calcium sulfate, canned salmon and sardines and leafy, dark green vegetables.

Many women may also take calcium supplements, as recommended by their physicians.

Vitamin D is another nutrient that may be lacking in a woman’s diet. Vitamin D helps the body use calcium to build strong bones and teeth and maintain muscle strength. Vitamin D, known as the "sunshine vitamin," is available in foods and through exposure to the sun’s UV rays. Ten to 15 minutes of sun exposure on the face, arms, hands or back without sunscreen at least twice a week is recommended to meet vitamin D needs of most people. Dark-skinned people may need more than this amount.

“As we grow older, our body’s ability to make vitamin D from sun exposure declines,” Reames says, explaining, “At age 70, vitamin D production is only 30 percent of what it was at age 25.”

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for vitamin D increases with age: ages 50 and younger need 200 IU (international units); ages 50 to 70 need 400 IU; and those over 70 need at least 600 IU.

The Dietary Guidelines recommend 1,000 IU of vitamin D for certain people, such as housebound individuals. Because the vitamin is fat-soluble and is stored in the body, it can potentially become toxic at high levels at 2,000 IU or higher.

Good food sources of vitamin D include vitamin D-fortified milk and orange juice, fatty fish such as salmon and sardines, egg yolks and fortified breakfast cereals.

Another nutrient that may be insuffienct in a woman’s diet is folate. Low consumption of folate, especially by women of child-bearing age, can lead to birth defects.

“It is crucial for women to know that by consuming adequate daily amounts of folate or folic acid through a varied diet, birth defects such as spina bifida can be prevented,” Reames says.

The daily recommendation for all women capable of becoming pregnant is 400 micrograms of folic acid from fortified foods or supplements. Good sources of folate include, spinach, navy beans, peas, nuts, lentils, oranges and enriched grain foods.

Low blood levels of folic acid also are linked to a higher risk of fatal coronary heart disease and stroke. Folate, along with vitamins B-6 and B-12, has been shown to reduce the blood level of homocysteine, a natural product of the breakdown of protein in the body. A high level of homocysteine in the blood may promote fatty deposits in blood vessels by damaging the inner lining of arteries and promoting blood clots.

Iron deficiency is another danger for women, especially for those of childbearing age. It may occur because of blood loss through menstruation. Women age 19-50 need more than twice the amount of iron as men of the same age – 18 milligrams compared to 8 milligrams. During pregnancy a woman's requirement is even more. Besides becoming anemic, iron deficiency may cause fatigue and affect performance.

Most men get the iron that they need from the food they eat. Since women have lower caloric needs, getting enough iron is a greater challenge.

Meat, fish and poultry are rich in iron. Plant foods naturally high in iron include spinach, chard, beans (pinto, kidney, black), lentils and peas. Most grain foods, including cereals, pasta and bread, are now fortified with iron. Eating vitamin C-rich foods, such as orange juice or tomatoes, along with foods high in iron will increase the amount of iron the body absorbs.

Lack of fiber can lead to certain types of cancers, heart disease and constipation. An adult woman needs approximately 21 grams to 25 grams of fiber per day. Good sources of fiber include apples, blueberries, figs, raisins, broccoli, carrots, peas, lentils, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta and bread.

The USDA MyPyramid reference is the government's guide to help meet the challenge of choosing foods to get the nutrients needed for good health. Plan meals and snacks around it.


Editor: Mark Claesgens 

5/1/2009 11:06:12 PM
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