Last year was a strange and disconcerting time in many ways but there is no reason to put off protecting your health. Women often carry a large load and I often notice how they care for the family before themselves….so make note this January to look after your health! Here is a top 5 checklist:
1. Look after your physical self
Take care of your physical well-being by eating well, keeping fit, sleeping and not smoking.
A nutritionally healthy and balanced diet provides the building blocks for your body functions. If you are on a restricted diet, be aware that you could be missing out on essential vitamins and minerals – check with your doctor or nutritionist if you need to get tested for a deficiency. Iron deficiency that could lead to anaemia commonly affects women particularly if menstrual periods are heavy.
In addition to “eating right”, make sure you are “drinking right” too. Dietary guidelines in the US define moderate alcohol intake as up to 1 standard drink a day for women. The more you drink, the greater the risk to your health – not to mention the empty calories that go with it. Be mindful about not consuming alcohol as a means of managing your stress.
If you smoke, one of the best things you can do to protect your health is to stop smoking. If it seems difficult to achieve, your doctor can advise you on smoking cessation strategies that work best for you.
I like advising FREQUENT exercise rather than REGULAR exercise, to convey the importance of fitting in some form of physical activity into the daily routine. The evidence for increasing physical activity for good health and disease prevention is massive. While Covid-19 has imposed significant restrictions on the use of facilities like gyms and pools, there are exercises you can take on whether at home or outdoors, and a good mix of different types of exercise – aerobic, strength and flexibility – should be the aim.
Do not neglect the importance of sleep – it is when mind and body rest and repair. The amount of sleep each of us needs is quite variable. In general, 7-9 hours is recommended but for some people 6 hours may be enough, while 9 may not be enough. The quality of sleep can be adversely affected by stress, anxiety, depression, as well as excessive alcohol. Women in the perimenopause and menopause frequently report sleep issues. The use of electronic devices before bedtime or in bed has been strongly linked with poor sleep and insomnia. If you have problems sleeping, look into potential reasons and take steps to address them. Consult your doctor if you need advice.
2. Look after your mental health
These are unprecedented times with extraordinarily high rates of mental health issues, ranging from stress and psychosomatic disorders to anxiety disorders and major depression. Many of us have experienced loss in some form or other. All of us have to deal with uncertainty and try to adapt to the best of our ability.
Looking after your physical health through proper nutrition, exercise, sleep and alcohol avoidance will go a long way in keeping well mentally. If working from home, draw clear boundaries to create a work-life balance. Take up or develop a hobby such as cooking, baking, gardening, playing music, art and craft, photography. Make time for yourself.
A Digital detox is worth considering if technology – the ever-present digital connection, a constant need to check emails, text messages, social media, news – is adding to your stress and/or poor sleep. I was recently introduced to the word “doomscrolling” by the New York Times and it is an apt description of how news of the unfolding pandemic grips us, instilling fear, anxiety and even hopelessness. Detox may imply abstinence from the use of devices, but it really is more about setting boundaries to ensure that you are using your devices in ways that benefit, rather than harm, your emotional and physical well-being. Setting boundaries on the type and timing of connections you’ll attend to also helps ensure that you can enjoy real-world activities and interactions without the digital distractions.
Be mindful of your own feelings. If you are experiencing anxiety, low mood, insomnia, hopelessness, or thoughts of self-harm, do not hesitate to reach out for professional help from a counsellor, therapist or your GP.
3. Get your Health and Wellness checks
Regular health screenings should always be a priority to stay well.
Health screening is also known as “wellness” checks. The aim of screening is to detect and treat early disease or risk factors in apparently fit and healthy individuals, in order to keep them healthy and well. There are evidence-based guidelines that our doctors observe when recommending screening tests for women at all stages of their lives, including screening for heart disease and certain cancers. Screening for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which is routinely performed, is even more relevant during these times of heightened stress and altered lifestyles.
Recommendations for testing are regularly updated to reflect new information from scientific research. Did you know that there is now a new improved screening test for cervical cancer apart from the Pap smear test? Or that recommendations for colon cancer screening continue to evolve? Speak with your doctor to stay up to date with health screening guidelines.
Health screenings must be individualized as every woman is different with different needs, lifestyles, family history and risk factors. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. An individual’s needs are best served in close collaboration with her doctor. This is what you should look for when getting your wellness checks, and it is what we seek to offer at Osler Health International.
Note: All our GPs at Osler Health are experienced in conducting bespoke Well Woman health checks including breast and gynaecological examinations where needed.
4. Get your shots
When we think of vaccines, top of the list on everyone’s minds is the Covid-19 vaccine. At the time of writing, we are waiting for the public roll-out of the Covid vaccines in Singapore. We will bring you more news on these developments when we have more information.
In the meantime let’s not forget that there are other infectious diseases that are vaccine-preventable and recommended for adults, such as seasonal influenza, tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis (TDaP), and hepatitis. People of certain age groups will benefit from vaccines like the pneumococcal vaccine that prevents pneumonia. Travel vaccines are also recommended for travel to specific areas, when travel resumes. You may be surprised to know that beyond the routine childhood schedule of immunizations, there are recommendations for adults too.
During a pandemic, when hospital resources are stretched, it is crucial that children and adults alike are adequately protected from illnesses that are preventable through vaccination.
5. Re-think your home office
Have you been experiencing more headaches, sore neck and shoulders, and/or backache since working from home? Are you getting tingling sensations in the hands or pains in the fingers? Is your vision blurred? A plethora of health issues has been identified stemming from working long hours in an environment that is not designed for work. If you work remotely it is important to ensure good ergonomics, in order to prevent musculoskeletal problems, repetitive strain injuries, and problems with vision. Take note of your posture, repetitive movements, duration at work; make sure you are taking breaks to stretch and move the body and re-focus the eyes. Do you need an adjustable chair with better back support? A sit-stand desk? Better positioning of your monitor screens, keyboard and mouse?
Here are some useful practical tips: workstation recommendations
Another major challenge with remote working is separating work from your personal space. There may be added pressures of having kids home and a full household. If you don’t have the luxury of a separate room for work, define your workspace with a room divider such as a folding screen or curtain. Avoid having your workspace in your bedroom, and do not do work in bed. Do only work at your workspace and nothing else. At the end of the workday leave your workspace as you would leave the office, and unplug from technology. Establishing boundaries to enhance work-life balance improves productivity and reduces stress and burnout.
I hope I’ve given you some ideas to add to your New Year’s resolutions. Looking after your health and wellbeing should be on the list in any given year, but particularly in these pandemic circumstances it should be right up there on your list for 2021.