March is the month celebrating women all over the world. And rightfully so. The woman deserves to be celebrated. But sometimes I wonder if this is a superficial notion. Does the world truly understand her value? Leave alone that, does the woman herself understand her value? Having lived for several years in the US and now in Mumbai, I do see a stark difference in the way the Indian woman treats herself as compared to the women in the US. I see the Indian woman stretching herself to her limits- physical, mental and spiritual- to keep a balance around her; managing to “take care” of her loved ones only to get neglected and left behind. Often ‘multi-tasking’ is the only option in order to single-handedly manage the responsibilities of home, family, children, and careers. Most women do this all their lives not realizing the detrimental effects of this type of behavior upon their physical and mental health. I find the Indian woman always in a race to be the BEST wife, supermom, Employee of the month, most socially accepted, best bahu and on and on creating unreasonable expectations of herself.
But I am not alone in thinking this. A study done by Nielsen revealed that Indian women are the most stressed in the world today. An overwhelming 87% of Indian women said they felt stressed most of the time, and 82% had no time to relax. The survey covered 6,500 women from 21 developed and developing countries like Sweden, the US, the UK, France, the BRICS economies. And India won! Another study conducted by The Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM) on “Multitasking Seriously Affecting corporate Women’s Health”, revealed that 78% of working Indian women in the age bracket of 32-58 years were found to be afflicted with lifestyle, chronic and acute ailments such as obesity, depression, chronic backache, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart, kidney disease etc.
I think this is disturbing. In my clinics, I often see women who have pain issues such as back pain, joint pain, osteoporosis-related issues but are reluctant to complete treatment because of the time, money and effort that entails. However, if it were their brother, husband or son they somehow think it is worth spending the time, money and effort. This makes me think that some of these issues are preventable if only women began to take better care of themselves; not after everyone was taken care of but as a first priority.
Women have a set of health issues they are more prone to as compared to men. Obesity, depression, chronic backache, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease are just a few of them. Lifestyle choices along with diet fads to lose weight quickly add to this. All of these are preventable with some mindfulness and awareness.
A good starting point I believe would be to follow a preventive screening especially designed for women for each age group. Women abroad are very conscientious and pro-active regarding preventive measures. I think Indian women can start here to bring in a healthier and happier future. Following are the important screening tests for women recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Remember these are guidelines and should be undertaken under the advice of your physician.
Blood pressure test: For all age groups: Get tested at least every 2 years if you have normal blood pressure (lower than 120/80). Get tested once a year if you have blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89. Discuss treatment with your doctor or nurse if you have blood pressure 140/90 or higher.
Cholesterol test: Starting at age 20, get a cholesterol test regularly if you are at increased risk for heart disease. Ask your doctor how often you need your cholesterol tested. This will depend on a lot of factors such as family history, stress levels, lifestyle, etc.
Bone mineral density test (osteoporosis screening): Discuss with your doctor if you are at risk of osteoporosis, family history or frequent falling or fractures. Get this test at least once at age 55 or older.
Breast cancer screening (mammogram): Starting at age 50, get screened every 2 years.
Cervical cancer screening (Pap test): Get a Pap test every 3 years if you are 21 or older; if you are 30 or older get a Pap test and HPV test together every 5 years. Speak with your gynecologist for more information.
Diabetes screening: Get screened for diabetes if your blood pressure is higher than 135/80 or if you take medicine for high blood pressure.
Periodically testing for Vitamin D, B12, hemoglobin and calcium levels under the guidance of a physician is a good idea for women of all ages especially over the age of 35.
Finally, my recommendation to women is Eat well– don’t diet, practice mindful eating; MAKE time to exercise– even for a few minutes a day; Be conscious of good posture and most importantly Learn to manage stress constructively- learn breathing and meditation techniques and practice positive thinking.