National Women’s Health Week:
A Reminder that Putting Yourself First Doesn’t Mean Putting Others Last

By Dr. Janine A. Clayton

dr claytonNational Women's Health Week is a time when we shine a national spotlight on the health of women and encourage women to make their own health a priority.

During this week, and the rest of the year, we should remember that making sure we are the healthiest we can be does not mean taking anything away from those we love. Actually, we can only give our best when we are at our best, and this starts with our health.

Start Small and Build
Ask yourself: "What is one thing I can do for my health today — exercise for 30 mins, eat a healthy meal today, go to bed on time or early?" Whatever it is, you can start small and build.

Maybe start by choosing a "healthy day" for yourself — maybe make it "Healthy Hump Day" — a day in which you are committed to doing healthy things all day, like eating healthy meals, taking the stairs if you are able, avoiding sugary drinks, etc.

Soon, you might expand that healthy day to healthy days, and those healthy days to a healthy life.

Manage Stress
Our lives are busy and complicated. Stress management is crucial. There are many things in life we cannot control, but we can work on how we respond to stressful situations.

Think about someone cutting you off on the highway. Some might immediately get angry, but we can think, "Maybe that person is having a bad day. Maybe he or she just got some bad news and needs to get home in a hurry, or is late picking a child up from school."

Now of course, I'm not justifying bad driving habits, but what I am saying is how you respond to this person can affect your health. Will you get angry and let your blood pressure rise over this, or will you react calmly to maintain a healthy state for yourself? Remember, it is about you, not the other driver — whom you will likely never know!

Mindfulness exercises like deep breathing and other coping strategies can assist a person in dealing with stressful situations and in decompressing in general.

Listen to Your Body and Be Persistent
We know when something is not right with our bodies. So listen to that little voice inside and get yourself checked out. Don't ignore it or put it off. Take the time you need to address your health. Our lives are busy, and others seek much from us. But sometimes in life, we simply need to make others accommodate us, and that is okay!
When you go to the doctor, be persistent if you feel you are not getting the care you need. Don't be afraid to ask questions or get a second opinion. It is your health, nobody else's.

Science and medicine are still catching up with growing evidence that sex — that is, being female or male — can matter a great deal in how a disease is diagnosed and treated.

(Did you know that women and men can have very different symptoms of a heart attack? Read more here:

I encourage women to ask questions like, "Was this drug or diagnostic procedure specifically tested in women?"

Consider Participating in Research, Even if You're Healthy
We need more women to participate in biomedical research to advance health care for women. You don't have to have a disease that is being studied to volunteer for a study.

We need healthy women also. We need to know what healthy looks like to better understand disease states. And participating doesn't necessarily mean you have to undergo any, or any majorly, invasive tests or procedures or even take a study medication.

Participating can be as simple as filling out a questionnaire, monitoring your vital signs or activities, or just donating a blood sample. Every little bit helps and can go a long way in providing crucial information that can improve health care for countless women.

Also, just like we are finding increasing differences between men and women, we are finding that even women can be very different from one another. The health issues of women of one race/ethnicity might be very different from those of another. For example, while the incidence of breast cancer is highest among white women, the death rates from breast cancer are highest among African-American women.

And of course, our age and stage in life also affect our health. Did you know that if you had certain complications during pregnancy, you might be more likely to develop cardiovascular disease later in life?  

So, I encourage women to participate in biomedical research for themselves and their daughters, nieces, friends, and communities.

Check out these tips for finding clinical trials:

You can also ask your doctor about research studies that might be appropriate for you. You can refer your physician to this resource for outreach to women about clinical research:

Here are additional resources you might find helpful:

Take steps today toward a healthier you!