The focus for International Women’s Day 2022 is Break The Bias. As a women’s health platform founded and run by women, breaking the gender bias is core to our company aims and culture. While a lot of the other IWD posts will focus on inspirational quotes or women’s stories, I thought it might be nice to give you something a bit different. A chance to pause and take time for yourself with a few simple ideas to help you to look after your own health (so you can continue to take on the world).
Women are born into a whole spectrum of different cultures around the world but we all share a historical difficulty in taking care of our own health and in getting our voices heard. Health services are mostly run by men and biased towards men. I repeatedly see women in general practice who have delayed diagnosis and unnecessary suffering through this. Many have the intrinsic belief that they have to put up with painful and difficult conditions such as painful heavy periods as it is part of being female. When they eventually speak to their doctor if they are told that it is nothing to worry about or to give it more time this is just confounding the problem and stops us from listening to our intuition about our bodies.
We are building Kensa Health to provide access to good quality and interesting women's health information and advice, alongside our aim of empowering women to get the care they need. For most women, this can start with small chances they make at home. Women are often the main family caregivers alongside having their own careers and around this juggle it is often difficult to prioritise their own health. It is difficult to take time for self care activities such as exercise, rest, hobbies, and healthy eating. As a practising GP and mum to a toddler I am aware that it is too easy to get caught up in the hard slog and the cracks can start to show with our health and general wellbeing. With all of this in mind, here are some sustainable everyday small adjustments and good habits to allow you to take more control of your own health.
Time for self care, this may include having five minutes a day dedicated to you, it may include having a set few hours once a week for a self care activity. It could be taking a bath, having a cup of tea, practising mindfulness, reading a favourite magazine. Whatever this means for you it needs to be in the schedule and top of the priority list. This is not selfish, it is actually essential for refuelling yourself and enabling you to be the best version of yourself.
Around eight hours of good quality sleep has far reaching benefits ranging from mood boosting to reducing risks of cancer and heart disease. The hours before midnight are especially important for your health and one recent study demonstrated that those who went to bed between 10 and 11pm had a 25% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than those going to bed after midnight1.
Listen to your intuition and read the signs your body is telling you. If you feel exhausted, take a break. Feel pain or discomfort or that something feels unusual for you? See to it and get it checked by a doctor. Have a niggling concern or worry? Talk about it with a loved one, a friend or a trusted health professional. Women know their own bodies best and if something isn't right for you physically, emotionally or mentally - don't dismiss it, speak with someone who can help. And if they dismiss it, find someone who will listen! You deserve to have your concerns, no matter how small, heard and attended to.
Nourish your system with a diverse range of food and drink. Aim to get a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and try to get a range of these by “eating the rainbow”. A review of diet and nutrition in gynaecological disorders found that increasing fruit and vegetables, plant derived natural compounds, following a Mediterranean type of diet as well as supplementing with vitamin D and drinking green tea can be beneficial in the prevention and management of gynaecological diseases2.
Beneficial for it’s immediate and long term effects on improving metabolism (controlling blood sugar levels and increased calorie burning), reduction in cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and optimising levels of happiness / wellbeing hormones such as serotonin. You can reduce your risk of death by 20-30% by being sufficiently active3, and in the UK it is recommended we aim for 2 ½ hours per week (or about 30 minutes most days) of moderate intensity activity4. Fit this into everyday activities, swap sitting to standing, swap the lift for the stairs, swap the car for the bike. Even when you are making a much needed relaxing tea, whilst waiting for the kettle to boil you could do a few leg squats, lunges, push ups, bench dips. Or even just a good long stretch!
Make some time to get outside for a walk, do some gardening or even take a wild swim.
Fresh air & inhaling phytoncides “essential oils” given off by trees and plants are beneficial to your immune system (increasing natural killer cells that help fight off illness)5.
Exposure to natural light is beneficial to your circadian rhythm and improves sleep quality as well as potentially increasing your vitamin D levels from sunlight.
Changes in temperature also stimulate the immune system and to a greater extent if it involves water (due to its increased conductive properties), so even better if your nature bathing also includes actual bathing or wild swimming.
Visual exposure to naturally occurring fractal patterns (occurring in leaves, clouds, rock formations) increase brain waves associated with relaxation and general wellbeing6.