One of the (many) nice things about being a child is that usually parents take care of your healthcare issues. For me, going to the doctor or dentist for a check up was a pretty fun event: My mom would pull me out of school and sometimes buy me ice cream afterwards, and the doctor would give me stickers. What’s not to love about that? And then I grew up, and suddenly I have to make my own appointments, and take off work to go to them, and instead of giving me stickers, my doctor is giving me...ya know, pap smears and stuff. Oh, the joys of womanhood.
Being a responsible adult may not always be fun, but we all owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to take care of our health as best we can. Keep reading for ten things that you should be doing to keep your body running in peak condition. Some of these tasks may be tedious, but they will be worth it in the long run, when you’re a hale and hearty 97-year-old who still makes waves and takes sh*t from no one. Remember: You are an independent, grown-ass woman. You can do it!
1. Breast Exams
You may be surprised to learn that breast self-exams have been a source of controversy recently. Many of us were taught from a young age that as adult women, we should check our breasts for lumps and irregularities every month, but studies have questioned the efficacy of this practice, and the United States Preventive Services Task Force even recommends against it. To make things more complicated, a 2014 Canadian study found that manual breast exams might be a valuable cancer detection tool, as good or even better than mammograms. Although this debate is confusing, the consensus seems to be that it’s always a good idea for a woman to be very familiar with her own breasts, something that can be accomplished through regular self-exams. That way, you’ll have a good sense of what is normal for your breasts, and you’ll be able to tell your doctor if anything seems abnormal. (It doesn’t hurt to get romantic partners involved, either!)
2. Don’t smoke!
We all already know that smoking is terrible to people’s health, male or female, but did you know that lung cancer is the most deadly cancer to women in wealthy countries, including the United States? Yup, more than breast cancer. Smoking causes both lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a disease that looks like chronic bronchitis or emphysema. And if you need yet another reason to give up the cigarettes, smoking, when combined with the use of hormonal birth control pills, can also significantly increase a woman’s risk of heart disease and stroke.
3. Pap Smears
Pap smears test for signs of cervical cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, women over the age of 21 should get pap smears done every three years. (Some doctors still suggest having the tests done more frequently; talk to your doctor about what is right for you.)
4. Skin Checks
If you spend a lot of time in the sun (or any time in the sun, really), it’s a good idea to regularly check your skin for unusual or irregular freckles and moles, which can be signs of skin cancer. As with breast exams, you’re the best judge of what is normal or abnormal for your skin, so keep an eye out for any new developments. This is also an area where you can get your S.O. involved – you can keep track of each other’s moles and freckles. Romantic, right?
Also, WEAR SUNSCREEN.
5. STI Screenings
If you are old enough to be having sex, then you are old enough to be getting regular STI screenings. You owe it to yourself and to your partner(s) to make sure that you have a clean bill of sexual health.
6. Go To The Dentist
The National Institutes of Health recommend that women between the ages of 18 and 39 visit the dentist every year. Your smile will thank you.
7. Take Precautions Against Heart Disease
Heart disease is the greatest health risk to American women. Heart disease has a reputation as a “man’s disease,” but it actually affects more women than it does men. The NIH recommends that women between the ages of 18 and 39 get their blood pressure checked every two years. The health organization also suggests that women between the ages of 20 and 45 who are at heightened risk of heart disease should have their cholesterol checked; talk to a doctor about what your specific risks are.
Federal guidelines suggest that adults should engage in moderate intensity aerobic exercise for 30 minutes a day. Exercise is one of the best things your can do for your body. According to USA Today,
Studies show that exercise reduces the risk of early death, helps control weight and lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, some types of cancer, anxiety disorders, cognitive decline and hip fractures. It can help improve sleep, memory, concentration and mood.
So, in a nutshell, exercise is good for pretty much everything.
9. Eat well
The U.S. Office on Women’s Health suggests that healthy eating can help prevent heart disease, stroke, and other health problems. That doesn’t mean that you have to have a miserable, crazy diet: Focus on eating lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy products that are low in fat, and lean meats like fish ad poultry.
10. Talk to your doctor
This list is not comprehensive, so it is important for you to take the time to talk to your doctor about what you should be doing to promote your health. Every patient is different, and he or she may have special recommendations for you, based on your family history and other risk factors.