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Putting self first is vital to good health as mom, wife

By Nancy Churnin Published: December 10, 2009
Women who fret about their children’s doctor appointments and their husband’s aches and pains often put their own health last.

That’s not a good idea.

Even if you have trouble taking time for yourself, remember the safety instructions you get when you board a plane: Put your oxygen mask on first in case of emergency. Then put the mask on children and others who need your help.

One in three women will die from some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association. One in 35 will die from breast cancer, according to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

One in 72 will die of ovarian cancer, according to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.

While you can’t prevent these tragedies, you can reduce your risk. We gathered tips from medical experts on easy things a woman can do, starting today, to stay healthy and strong.

Your body is only as healthy as what you put in it. Here’s how to move quickly to a better path.

Cut it out: Just say no to smoking. Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk for breast cancer, according to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. And throw out the fad diets, as many leave out important nutrients.

Amp it up: Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds can help with weight control (which improves your overall health). These foods also help give you the fiber you need (21 grams daily if you are older than 50 and 25 grams if younger than 50). Women are prone to irritable bowel syndrome because they tend to get less fiber as a result of eating less food than men do.

Vitamin reminder: Menstruating women should eat iron-rich foods or take an iron supplement to prevent iron-deficiency anemia. Vitamin C helps with iron absorption. Other vital nutrients are calcium to prevent osteoporosis, and vitamin D to help with calcium absorption.

The best way to release those endorphins that will improve your mood and give you energy is to accumulate 150 minutes of aerobic exercise throughout the week. Sound daunting? Not if you break it into 15 sessions of 10 minutes each, or five 30-minute sessions.

Clock yourself daily and don’t forget to go for "moderate intensity” — that’s when you can carry on a conversation while being a little out of breath and having a slight sweat.

Easy ways to fit it in
→Take the stairs instead of the elevator at work.

→Look for the farthest spot rather than the closest when you park, and walk to your destination.

→Begin and end your day with a walk around your block. Do some exercises while you watch television. Give the kids a thrill (and a laugh) by playing Dance Dance Revolution or Wii Fit with them.

→Don’t forget muscle-strengthening exercises to fight osteoporosis. Ten to 15 minutes twice a week will do it. Weight-bearing exercises include squats, lunges, push-ups, sit-ups and weights.

Checking up
See your doctor for an annual check-up and make sure you get these tests: blood pressure, cholesterol, bone density, pre-diabetes and thyroid.

Starting at age 20, women should be getting clinical breast exams at least every three years. Additionally, sexually active women should get yearly Pap smears and pelvic exams, unless at higher risk because of family cancer.

A fierce debate currently rages over whether healthy women in their 40s without family history of breast cancer should get annual mammograms. Recently a U.S. panel issued new recommendations for breast cancer screening, saying women should begin getting mammograms at age 50 rather than age 40.