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Surprising Ways to Lose Weight and Feel Great


Hormones have a bad reputation. Feeling bloated? Cranky? Craving carbs? Blame it on that time of the month. But hormones provide a host of health benefits and can help you lose weight, sleep better and stay sharp. Click through to learn five ways they can help you be your best—and how to harness their positive power. 
Posted 6/10/2013  6:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 13 comments   17,678 views
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Confession: I Don't Change in the Locker Room


I grew up playing school sports and taking phys ed class, so I've been in my share of locker rooms. But now that I'm an adult, the only locker room I encounter is at the gym. And to be perfectly honest, I'm really—I mean REALLY—uncomfortable changing in the women's locker room. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm the odd woman out or if I'm normal after all.
Posted 4/19/2013  12:00:00 PM By: Nicole Nichols : 814 comments   148,283 views
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What Women Really Need to Know about Heart Health


 
Editor's Note: February is Heart Health month, aimed at bringing awareness to the #1 killer in America. Today we're sharing an interview with Dr. Patrice Desvigne-Nickens on behalf of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and The Heart Truth®. Dr. Desvigne-Nickens answered our questions via email.
 
DailySpark: How early should women start to take steps to protect their heart health?

Dr. Desvigne-Nickens: Women need to take steps at every age to protect their heart health. Heart disease can begin early, even in the teen years, and it is important for women and girls at all ages to know about heart disease and follow a healthy lifestyle.  Women in their 20s and 30s should take action to reduce their risk of developing heart disease.

DailySpark: What are the top lifestyle changes women can make to ensure their hearts stay healthy?

Dr. Desvigne-Nickens: Most heart disease risk factors are preventable or controllable by making healthy lifestyle changes, including: stopping smoking, being physically active, following a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight.  Additional risk factors that you can prevent and control include: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and high blood sugar or diabetes.  These conditions are silent (that is you don’t have any symptoms) so you must talk with your physician and know your numbers.  High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and high blood sugar are often treatable with healthy lifestyle but may require medical prescriptions.

DailySpark: Which habits harm our hearts the most?

Dr. Desvigne-Nickens: Smoking, letting high blood pressure and high cholesterol go untreated, being overweight or obese, not being physically active, and not managing diabetes all can contribute to increasing a person’s risk for heart disease.
It is especially important to understand that that having more than one risk factor or condition multiplies your risk of developing heart disease.  Having one risk factor doubles your risk for disease; having two risks quadruples your risk for developing disease; having three risks increases risk by tenfold.   Don’t choose among risk factors, take charge and control your risks.  You can reduce your risk for heart disease by over 80% by controlling risk factors and a healthy lifestyle.

DailySpark: How much impact does weight have on heart health?
Posted 2/22/2013  12:00:00 PM By: Stepfanie Romine : 4 comments   10,874 views
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Women, Take This Doctor's Advice to Heart


Editor's Note: We're passionate about saving lives and preventing heart disease! Please share this blog post with other women in your life. Click the buttons above to share it on social media sites or send via email.

Happy American Heart Month

February's best-known day is Valentine’s Day, and what with all the heart-shaped things associated with that occasion, it is the perfect month to highlight heart health and share with you what you can do to protect your most precious asset.  Your heart will be there for you during all of your life’s adventures, but heart disease is a big threat to all of us!   Heart disease is America’s number one cause of death

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
  • 1 in 3 deaths in the US is from heart disease and stroke
  • That's equal to 2,200 deaths per day.
  • 2 million heart attacks and strokes occur each year
  • 80,000,000 adults are affected by heart disease
  • Heart disease & stroke cost the nation $444 billion/year in health care costs and lost economic productivity.
How can you start taking care of your heart? By being mindful of your lifestyle--and knowing that lasting change is not accomplished without knowledge and a little work.  You will find that SparkPeople is a great resource to help you accomplish not only your weight-loss goals but also your heart-health goals! (Visit SparkPeople's Healthy Heart Condition Center today.)

In the not too distant past, heart disease was erroneously labeled as a "man’s" disease.  The seemingly healthy father that suddenly dies of a heart attack leaving young children and a wife behind is a stereotypical nightmare scenario.  Views like this have placed too much emphasis on men in heart-health research, and, as a result, both treatment guidelines and public health initiatives are skewed toward men. 

But are you aware of the prevalence of heart disease in women?   More than 42 million women are currently living with some form of cardiovascular disease.  Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in America!

To change America’s perception that heart disease is a "man’s disease," the American Heart Association in 2004 created the campaign Go Red for Women  to bring awareness to this largely preventative disease.  Efforts such as Go Red for Women Day work because studies show that when women are aware of their risk for heart disease they are much more likely to make the effort to make the necessary lifestyle changes. 

The same simple, lasting changes you're implementing as a way to lose weight will also help you keep your heart healthy: eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, don't smoke (or quit if you do), and limit your alcohol intake.

So, as women, what can we do specifically to improve our heart health? What should we be doing to keep our ticker ticking?
Posted 2/14/2013  12:00:00 PM By: Birdie Varnedore, M.D. : 25 comments   25,165 views
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I Lost 212 Pounds!


Jennifer Hodges, 41
Before: 369 lb
Now: 157 lb
 
Start
 
I began gaining weight in sixth grade soon after my parents opened a pizza place. I wasn't active and ate poorly. To deal with being heavy, I was the "funny fat girl" in high school and made jokes about my weight. At 23, I was 250 pounds. People always said, "You have such a pretty face, if you'd just lose weight, you'd be a knockout."
 
Reality Check

In October of 2008, I fell in the yard and twisted my ankle while playing with my three kids (who were all under the age of 4). At 350 pounds, I was too big for my husband to lift, so he had to get a blanket, roll me onto it and drag me inside. I was humiliated and terrified. What if I had been home alone? I knew I had to make big changes. 
Posted 2/4/2013  12:00:00 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 78 comments   27,587 views
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How to Treat Post-Menopausal Hair Loss


If you're a post-menopausal woman, you might have noticed that your forehead has grown higher all of a sudden. Or maybe the part in your hair has gotten wider, and you can see your scalp when the light hits it just right. But don't worry; you're not alone. Up to 10% of pre-menopausal women experience some androgenetic alopecia (decreased hair diameter with a normal growth pattern), and the rate jumps considerably to 50-75% of women 65 and older. 

The cause of this type of hair loss isn't fully understood, but some studies point to factors such as hormonal imbalances, iron deficiency, rapid weight loss, medication side-effects and some disease states.  For any woman who is experiencing hair loss, the first step is to consult with a healthcare professional who can rule out any physical conditions that may be contributing to the hair loss, followed by a proper treatment plan.
Posted 9/26/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Cathy Cram : 13 comments   27,150 views
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Easy Ways to Overcome Incontinence


Let's face it: Nobody wants to talk about incontinence. However, many women have some degree of it. There is no reason why anyone should have to feel embarrassed about or continue to suffer from this problem, but it continues to be a common chronic health condition that diminishes quality of life.

Many women experience urinary incontinence for the first time during or after pregnancy. The physical changes of pregnancy, along with the stresses put on the pelvic floor, can cause urine leakage with exertion, coughing or sneezing. For many women, this problem resolves within several months postpartum. However, without treatment, some women may continue to have a chronic incontinence issues for life.

There are two main types of urinary incontinence, listed below. Some women develop a mix of the two.
Posted 8/15/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Cathy Cram : 22 comments   10,949 views
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Celebrating Four Decades of Title IX


June 23, 2012 marked the 40th anniversary of the signing of national legislation known as Title IX that sought to create equal rights for boys and girls. Because of this legislation, countless women including myself have taken advantage of the ability to participate in a myriad of athletic opportunities that extend to all levels of competition and have reached far beyond the United States.
 
The proof of Title IX's impact lies far beyond any statistics regarding the number of girls that have participated in organizes athletics. Several weeks ago, the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Track and Field Championships took place at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium at The Ohio State University in Columbus Ohio. You may have heard about the teen runner that helped carry her competitor as she struggled to finish the long race. As a four-time competitor in that state meet (as a high jumper), I loved reading about the great example of sportsmanship at such a high level of competition. Watching it was even better!
Posted 7/2/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Tanya Jolliffe : 11 comments   5,440 views
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Dr. Birdie on the New Women's Health Guidelines


Being healthy is about far more than the number on your scale. Just because you lost weight and look fabulous does not guarantee you're healthy on the inside.  As a physician, I have seen many people who are thin and look healthy, but are actually sicker than many overweight and obese people. 

The best way to stay healthy for years to come is to prevent illness.  Focusing on diet and exercise is an important part of being healthy and preventing illness, but there are other aspects of your health that can't be managed with diet and exercise alone. Some areas of your health require regular visits to a qualified medical professional, especially for women. 

So, women of SparkPeople, when was the last time you visited your gynecologist? 

Can I see a show of hands?  Do you know how often you are supposed to get a Pap smear? How about a mammogram?  You are probably thinking I’m trying to trap you into the wrong answer. 

Of course, I am!  Most of you probably said you need to get an annual Pap smear and an annual mammogram starting at age 40.  Right?  Not anymore.

The rules we've all heard have changed, and I'm here to explain the new recommendations for Pap smears, mammograms, and more.

Posted 4/3/2012  6:00:00 PM By: Birdie Varnedore, M.D. : 45 comments   11,678 views
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Study: Women Don't Notice Weight Gain--Do You Agree?


I read an interview recently with Kathy Ireland, whom many of us know best as the Sports Illustrated cover model. Ireland is now 48 and a successful entrepreneur worth more than an estimated $300 million. I didn't know that about Ireland, so I read a few more articles about her online.

A few years ago, Ireland realized she had put on 25 pounds in as many years--without really noticing. I was not making enough time to take care of me," she told People magazine after successfully and safely losing the weight in 2009.

At first I was surprised. Twenty-five pounds is a good deal of weight--that's the size of a toddler! How could you not notice? But then I thought back to my own weight gain of almost 50 pounds, and I understood exactly what she meant. If you gained 25 pounds overnight, you would notice, but when it creeps on slowly, we tend not to notice.

I didn't gain 50 pounds overnight. I gained 10 my first year of college, yo-yoed another 10 until graduation, then another 10 the year after college, and 20 in less than a year after that. I didn't really think about the weight gain until those last 20 piled on. I was working second shift at the newspaper, going out with friends most nights, eating takeout (and huge portions!) for dinner on a regular basis, and not exercising. Moderation was not in my vocabulary.

If you've never gained weight, it's easy to doubt how people can seem oblivious to their gain. But if you've been there, you can relate--and a recent study bolstered those claims. A study of 466 women over 36 months found that 1 in 3 didn't notice a gain of 4.5 pounds in 6 months, while 25% didn't notice a 9-pound increase during the same time period.

And in 2010, a study found that 4 in 10 overweight women believe themselves to be of normal weight.

These studies certainly flout the stereotypes that most women are hyper-aware of their weight and that most of us believe we're fat.

What do you think? Do you have trouble perceiving your true size?
Posted 3/14/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Stepfanie Romine : 150 comments   19,804 views
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In Post-Menopausal Women, 'the Sunshine Vitamin' is One to Watch


Vitamin D is a hot topic in nutrition, and one that's become a focus in menopausal bone health.  There are two forms of the vitamin, D2 and D3 (cholecalciferol), with D3 the form best metabolized by the body. Vitamin D is found in foods such as fish, eggs, fortified milk and the old remedy, cod liver oil. 

Although this nutrient is found in foods, the greatest source for obtaining vitamin D is through the skin.  When bare skin is exposed to ultraviolet light, it synthesizes vitamin D3 that is then stored in the liver.  You only need 10-15 minutes of sun exposure during peak sun hours (between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in most locations) during the summer months to produce up to 10,000 IUs of the nutrient.  After that short exposure you can continue with safe sun habits and slather on a broad-spectrum sunscreen. 

How much vitamin D do you need? According to SparkPeople's resident dietitian, Becky Hand: In the last few years, many experts and health organizations urged the Institute of Medicine to revisit the DRI set for vitamin D and re-evaluate the latest research. After a thorough review, the recommendations for vitamin D did go up by two or threefold in some age groups. The current Recommended Dietary Allowance for vitamin D (as of November 2010) is:
  • Ages 1-70: 600 IU (International Units) daily
  • Ages 71 and older: 800 IU daily
  • Tolerable Upper Intake Level: ages 9 and up: 4000 IU daily
 
Read more: How to Get Your Daily Dose of Vitamin D

Current research on vitamin D and its role in health suggests that there may be a correlation between low blood levels of this nutrient and the development of diseases such as osteoporosis, some cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and even obesity and depression.  There are estimates that up to one half of all Americans are deficient in this vitamin, with an increased risk of deficiency in people who have one or more of these risk factors:
Posted 1/25/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Cathy Cram : 23 comments   12,418 views
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The Secret to Not Letting the Holidays Overwhelm You? Have a Plan!


We're in the thick of the holiday season, and for many women it can be a time when the mainstays of our healthy habits take a back seat to preparations for seasonal celebrations.   For those who struggle with weight issues, the holidays can be a minefield of cookies, festive meals and lots and lots of favorite treats.  In addition, stressful pace of this season can derail the most faithful of exercisers, and add snow, ice and cold to the mix and you have even more fitness dropouts.

So what's a gal to do?  The first and most important step is to start now with a contingency plan for keeping your diet healthy and your fitness routine alive by proactively having positive alternatives to the usual things that sideline your good habits this time of year.  

Most people have several holiday parties that provide a tempting array of fatty appetizers and desserts.  You can take part in those events, enjoy the food and not overindulge if you just think ahead and make a plan for negotiating the holiday fare.  I've found the following tips can make a big difference in how well your maneuver through the holiday eating season. 
Posted 12/7/2011  6:00:00 AM By: Cathy Cram : 13 comments   5,690 views
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Muscle Your Way to Stronger Bones


One of the most concerning physical changes that occurs in postmenopausal women is an accelerated loss in bone mineral density within the first several years after menopause.   The rate of postmenopausal bone loss can vary for each woman, and factors such as her bone mineral density prior to menopause, diet, exercise level and genetics all influence her rate of bone loss.

All types of exercise are great for your health, but to build strong bones, weight-bearing exercises like running, stair climbing, walking and strength training are increasingly shown to help prevent bone loss in postmenopausal women.
Recent studies have found that combining weight bearing exercises like walking or running or even jump roping with higher-intensity, lower-repetition strength training three times a week was more beneficial for bone mineral density (bone mineral density) than just doing the cardio exercise alone.

One of the key findings from bone mineral density research is that only the areas of the body that are loaded by the force of muscle movement are stimulated to rebuild and increase in bone mineral density.  For example, if you're a postmenopausal runner who doesn't do any upper body strength training, you may have bone loss in the bones of your upper body.  Just like the saying about tooth health and flossing, “only floss the teeth you want to save” you need to think about your whole skeletal system when developing an exercise program, and include exercises that'll target your entire body.

What helps maintain and even increase bone mineral density in postmenopausal women?  
Posted 10/31/2011  6:00:00 PM By: Cathy Cram : 11 comments   7,561 views
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Inspiring Woman: Triathlete and Two-Time Breast Cancer Survivor


Editor's Note (Nicole Nichols): I've had the pleasure of competing against Laurah Turner in multiple local races (and by "competing" I mean "watching her leave me in the dust"). I always found her athletic achievements admirable, her sheer speed enviable, and her personality contagious. Recently, I learned Laurah, an amazingly talented endurance athlete who appears to be the epitome of health and fitness, is a two-time breast cancer survivor—and she's only 29. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I asked Laurah to share her inspiring story of how breast cancer changed her and inspired both her career and her fitness goals.
 
I grew up a type A personally. I tended toward routine, was obnoxiously punctual and saw the entire world through Excel spreadsheets and lists. In fact, I was so married to my routines that I even developed the quickest and most efficient way to prepare the perfect pot of coffee. Every morning, I woke up and immediately dove for my coffee pot. I employed a specific set of procedures which resulted in the first bold, sweet, creamy sip of caffeinated heaven rushing over my palate within 3 minutes and 40 seconds, and never deviated from this ritual.
 
July 25, 2004 was no different than any other morning, but somehow during my distribution of  six leveled scoops of Folgers into the coffee filter, my fingertips found themselves palpating a large lump on my right breast instead of steadying  the canister of grounds as they usually would. Was it that? I didn’t have this lump yesterday.  Suddenly a wave of panic engulfed my body.  Had the lump been there yesterday? A week ago?
Posted 10/27/2011  6:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 48 comments   11,458 views
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From Dr. Birdie: What You Really Need to Know about Breast Cancer


For more than 25 years, October has been recognized as National Breast Cancer Awareness month. This is the time of year when the familiar pink ribbons and, in more recent years, pink in general becomes more prevalent in our communities and in the media. Why does breast cancer awareness get so much attention?

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in females worldwide.  In the United States, breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in women (after skin cancer) and is the #1 cause of death in women ages 40-59. In Hispanic women, it is the #1 cause of death from cancer.  What this means for you is that most of you either know someone directly or indirectly affected by this potentially life-threatening disease.  In fact, 1 in 6 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, according to government statistics.  In 2007 in the United States, there were 202,964 new cases diagnosed and 40,598 deaths related to the disease. (Editor's note: Some of you questioned Dr. Birdie's statistics, and she welcomes the debate. These statistics refer to cancer-related deaths, not diagnoses, and these numbers come directly from the CDC.)

The Importance of Early Detection

Before we learn about what you can do to protect yourself against breast cancer, I want to stress the importance of early detection.  How to prevent breast cancer will be the focus of many discussions regarding breast cancer this month, but despite your best intentions and lifestyle modifications, you or a loved one may still develop the disease.  

Many of the most significant risk factors for developing breast cancer are not in your control: family history, sex and age.  I want you to understand that if you have these risk factors you are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer but that the presence of risk factors will not predict if you will get breast cancer.   So, the best weapon that we have in this fight so far is early detection.  

Thanks to early detection, many women go on to live long lives.  Do monthly self-exams and get your screening mammograms.  Screening mammograms typically start at age 50, but some women may need to start earlier based on medical or family history. Please check with your physician by age 40 to determine your screening requirements, as it will be different for every woman. Early detection is crucial to survival. In my opinion, every discussion about breast cancer needs to start with this critical reminder. 

Now that we have some very important business out of the way (early detection, self-exams, mammograms!) we can discuss some of the risk factors from breast cancer and what you can do to modify your risk of developing the disease.
Posted 10/7/2011  10:00:00 AM By: Birdie Varnedore, M.D. : 37 comments   12,739 views
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