The Doctors: Ten tips to help women feel their best

Doctors for USA WEEKEND

Keep blood pressure in check. It's the most important lifestyle change you can make to help protect you from a stroke, according to a recent study; researchers found that people with ideal blood pressure had a 60 percent lower risk of future stroke, when compared to those with poor numbers. Nearly half of all adults with high blood pressure are women; after menopause, the chances of developing the condition increase considerably. Left untreated, high blood pressure doubles the risk of heart disease; it can also lead to kidney damage, as well vision and memory loss, among other issues. To help control blood pressure: eat healthy, be active, watch your weight, quit smoking, limit alcohol, manage stress, and take medications as prescribed.

Don't skip breakfast. Foregoing that first meal can impact your mood, memory and energy levels (and not in a good way). You're also more likely to put on pounds—findings from the National Weight Control Registry, a large, long-term study of successful dieters, shows that nearly 80 percent eat breakfast every day. Emerging research now suggests yet another reason to not to pass up breakfast: an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. A small, preliminary study of overweight and obese women found those who didn't eat breakfast experienced insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes. And a larger study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that women who skipped even once a week were 20 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate a meal every morning. So when you're prepping tomorrow's breakfast, consider these healthy options: nonfat yogurt with berries, whole wheat toast with peanut butter and fruit, or eggs with low-fat cheese and salsa.

Ask about breast cancer screenings. A new study found that more deaths from breast cancer occur in younger women who don't get regular mammograms—results that sparked discussions about the current government recommendations, which advise women get mammograms every other year starting at age 50. Other research found the incidence of advanced-stage breast cancer to be on the rise in younger women, between the ages of 25 and 39. The American Cancer Society, among other organizations, recommends annual screenings, starting at age 40. Some women may need to test more frequently, others might need to start younger, depending on family history and other factors. Talk to your doctor to determine the best screening schedule for you.

Do skip the nightcap. Sure, it might help you doze off faster, but your sleep will be less restful. That's because as your body starts to metabolize the alcohol in that after-dinner cocktail, it can act as a stimulant, causing you to wake up more frequently during the night. Plus, research has shown that too much alcohol disrupts women's sleep more so than men's, particularly when it comes to feeling tired the next day. You can enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, but don't drink it within three hours of bedtime; instead, find other ways to relax before hitting the sack, like taking a warm bath, meditating or listening to soothing music.

Practice Kegel exercises. They target pelvic floor muscles, and their purpose is to help prevent and treat urinary incontinence, an unintentional leak which women experience twice as often as men and is often prompted by something physical, like coughing, laughing or running. First, find the right muscles—they're the ones you'd use to stop your pee midstream. Trying not to tighten your stomach, legs or buttocks (and making sure to breathe normally), squeeze your pelvic muscles for a count of three seconds, then relax for three. Work up to three sets of 10. Start kegel exercises lying down; when your muscles get stronger, do them while sitting or standing (working against gravity is like adding more weight). The added bonus: kegels help you reach better orgasm.

Wear sunscreen daily. You know doing so helps protect against sunburn and lower your risk of skin cancer; new science suggests it can also slow or even prevent skin aging. Researchers in Australia measured photoaging in about 900 study participants under the age of 55; photoaging describes skin damage caused by exposure to the sun, including wrinkles, sunspots, skin roughness and more. The study was designed in part to compare regular use of sunscreen to occasional use. After four years, participants who used sunscreen every day showed 24 percent less skin aging than those in the occasional group, no matter what their age. To help keep your skin young and healthy looking, choose a SPF 30, broad-spectrum sunscreen (many moisturizers have sunscreen built in) and slather it on—sun, rain or snow.

Eat fatty fish. Salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna and sardines are good choices--their omega-3s are thought to reduce inflammation, which evidence has shown can help lower the risk of heart disease. New studies suggest the fatty acids in these oily fish may also offer some protection against breast cancer as well as rheumatoid arthritis. Plus, sardines and canned salmon contain calcium and vitamin D to help keep bones strong. How many servings of fatty fish should you eat? About one or two per week.

Consider non-hormonal therapies to ease hot flashes. Though estrogen is the most effective treatment, it's not the safest choice for every woman. Recently the FDA approved the first non-hormonal therapy to treat moderate to severe hot flashes; it's called Brisdelle and it contains paroxetine, an antidepressant sold under the brand name Paxil. Doctors have prescribed paroxetine off-label for hot flashes for years; the newly approved product, however, will be a lower dose. Brisdelle is scheduled to hit pharmacy shelves in November; ask your doctor about side effects and if it's a good option for you. What else might work for hot flashes: Rhythmic breathing. Research showed women who paced their breathing at 6 breaths per minute for 15 minutes experienced fewer and less severe hot flashes. (The women who had the most relief practiced twice a day.) What likely won't work: Exercise. Though there are many (many) proven benefits of working out, a new study indicates easing hot flashes is not among them.

Plan mini-getaways. A few days exploring a new city, an overnight on the weekend, even taking a random day off from work is enough to help you recharge and de-stress, maybe even more so than taking a long trip, says a psychologist at the University of Alabama. Think about how happy you are when you anticipate leaving for vacation; scheduling more frequent—albeit shorter—breaks maximizes that feeling. Other ways to help relieve stress: Get active, laugh more, connect with family, try yoga, keep a journal or seek counseling if you need it. Find what works for you; it's important because chronic stress can raise your risk of a variety of health problems including depression, sleep and digestive issues, and weight gain; results from a decades-long study also found many middle-aged women develop aches and pains and other physical symptoms as a result of chronic stress.

Empty your bladder after intercourse. That's one way to help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs); another is to avoid deodorant sprays, douches and other feminine hygiene products that could irritate the area. Drinking lots of water also helps flush bacteria; the protective effects of cranberry juice, however, are a little less clear. Some studies suggest it has infection-fighting properties; other research says it may only help those who have recurring UTIs. Most women will experience at least one UTI in their lifetime; after menopause your risk increases—the lack of estrogen causes changes in the urinary tract that make it more vulnerable to infection. Scientists in Sweden recently published research suggesting estrogen supplements delivered vaginally may help prevent repeat urinary tract infections in postmenopausal women.

The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork, plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon, health and wellness expert Jillian Michaels and psychologist Wendy Walsh. Check www.thedoctorstv.com for local listings.

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