May 23, 2024

Celebrating Women’s Health Month with Awareness and Advocacy

Women's Health
Celebrating Women's Health Month with Dr. Nottestad, Blog graphic

May is slated as “Women’s Health Month,” which makes it a perfect time to reinforce the importance of regular checkups among the female population. Many health problems are detected via preventative screenings—which ultimately improves outcomes.

Stephanie Nottestad, MD, family physician at our Cambridge Clinic, offers her expertise on the different types of screenings women should undergo throughout their lifetime.

Essential Cancer Screenings

One important screening is conducted to detect cervical cancer. Women should initiate this screening at age 21. From 21 to 30, the frequency schedule is every three years—unless, of course, something problematic appears. Once a woman reaches the age of 30, the test is done every five years.

Another essential screening is mammogram to look for breast cancer. Guidelines dictate starting at age 40 and continuing until age 75, on an every-year or every-other-year basis depending on risk factors. Rounding out the cancer screenings is colonoscopy, which typically begins at age 45. Frequency of colon cancer screening relies on risk factors and results of the actual test.

Age 50: An Important Milestone for Overall Health

In both women and men, the half-century mark—age 50—is a common milestone for testing and monitoring increased risk of stroke and heart disease. Women should be seeing their physician annually, at the very least, once they turn 50.

“We do want to see you yearly so we can be checking your blood pressure, checking your numbers, and really having a good discussion with you about the best way to take care of yourself so you can live the best, longest, healthiest life,” states Dr. Nottestad.

Part of that conversation surrounds nutrition and exercise. Women lose muscle mass and bone density as they age, making weight-bearing exercise an imperative strategy. Unfortunately, many women are averse to strength training because they fear they will get “big and bulky.”

“That really doesn’t happen to women. I counsel my female patients that they really need to be lifting heavy weight. As we age, especially over the age of 50, our muscle mass starts to decrease. When we lose muscle mass, we are more prone to osteoporosis, more prone to falling, more prone to hip fractures, things like that,” cautions Dr. Nottestad. “So, if women want to have a long, healthy life, live at home, be independent, it’s really important they get that strength training in.”

She also recommends getting a weekly minimum of 150 minutes of moderate cardio exercise, which contributes to optimal heart health and maintaining a healthy weight. Regarding nutrition, Dr. Nottestad advises following the practices of the Mediterranean diet. This pattern of eating includes a high-fiber diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains.

Mental Health Optimization: Healthy Sleep, Stress Management

When speaking about women’s health, the conversation needs to expand beyond the physiological. Mental health is a significant concern among both men and women, particularly in recent years. Dr. Nottestad explains there are many facets to mental health—everything from getting restful sleep to knowing how to effectively manage daily stress.

“Women usually have a lot of tugs on their time with work and family. As we get older, we also have aging parents we might be taking care of. But it’s really important to try to take some time every day for yourself,” she urges. “It can be the exercise you perform, maybe reading, an activity you enjoy. To have some time every day where you’re making yourself a priority is really important. We know this to be true for long-term health.”