We’ve all heard it a hundred times – “Eat right and exercise”. As generic as it may seem, that bit of counsel has stood the test of time when it comes to better health. Good health habits are important throughout all stages of life, but never more so for a woman than during her reproductive years. A woman needs to consider that her choices may affect not just her, but also her future children
The years from 18 to 40 are referred to as the reproductive years because most pregnancies occur in women during these ages. Good habits — especially eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet and exercising regularly — can help young women avoid chronic, debilitating illnesses as they get older.
If you are planning to become pregnant, you should get your body into the best condition possible to help ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. If you are not planning a pregnancy, following a healthy lifestyle will still help you feel and look better.
Again, there is nothing new or magic on the list of things you can do to improve your health during this important time of life, but it never hurts to have a few reminders:
- Never start smoking — but if you do, quit now! It is the most preventable cause of death and quitting reduces your risk of cancer and other chronic illnesses. Smoking can also affect your ability to get pregnant and can cause miscarriage, preterm and low birth weight infants and SIDS.
- Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and skim or low-fat milk. Try to limit foods high in fat, or with added sugars or salt. If you're trying to conceive, the March of Dimes recommends taking a multivitamin supplement containing 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. If you become pregnant, you should also add a prenatal multivitamin.
- Be physically active regularly throughout your life. The CDC recommends at least 2 hours and 30 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity and muscle strengthening. Healthy women should also be able to exercise throughout their uncomplicated pregnancy without any problems. An added benefit: Exercise is an excellent way to elevate your mood!
- Get screening exams and tests. Perform monthly self-breast exams, skin assessments and get regular Pap smears. Talk to your health care provider about screening for high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, and cholesterol, especially if you have a history of gestational diabetes or hypertension during pregnancy. Diagnosis and proper management of chronic disease is important to your long-term health.
- Maintain a healthy weight, especially before and after pregnancy. When pregnant, talk to your doctor about healthy weight gain. A nutritious, well-balanced diet and exercise can keep your body fit and able to resist disease. Reducing your weight to a normal level before pregnancy can decrease your risk of gestational diabetes by 50%!
- Practice safe sex. Sexually transmitted infections can increase your risk of infertility and later affect your labor and delivery options if you do become pregnant.
- Don't abuse alcohol or other drugs, including prescribed medication. The effects of abuse can be detrimental to your own health and dangerous for your baby if you become pregnant. Babies born addicted to drugs can have devastating immediate and long-term complications.
- Manage the stress in your life. Find someone you can confide in. Manage your time more efficiently and keep things organized. Ask for help from others. Learn to relax and have fun! Deep breathing, meditation and stretching exercises help calm the body and mind. Talk to a professional if you need more help.
Following these guidelines can contribute to making a woman's reproductive years healthier and more enjoyable, and set the stage for a healthier pregnancy. Start now!