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(2008-12-30 11:45:20)


Despite the obvious differences between men and women, we're only beginning to learn how the sexes differ in terms of health and disease. Until recently, most medical research focused on men and often didn't consider gender differences. We're learning more every year, but here are four important things that you and the women in your life need to know right now.

1. Your brain

The good news for women is that they live, on average, five years longer than men. The bad news is that with extra longevity comes increased risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. The majority of people living with Alzheimer's are women, and more than twice as many women die from it as men. We don't know all the causes of the disease, but there are steps you can take to keep your brain healthy.

Exercise your mind and your body. Studies show that physical and mental activity may improve brain health. Mental exercises that draw on memory and reasoning have even been shown to reverse some of the signs of aging in the brain.

Eat fish or take a fish-oil supplement. The omega-3 fats found in fish and fish oil are linked with better brain health. Choose oily fish such as salmon, sardines, anchovies, herring, and mackerel. Chunk-light tuna is preferable to albacore or sushi, because it usually contains fewer contaminants, such as mercury.

Manage your mood. Anxiety, worry, anger, and depression have been linked with higher rates of cognitive impairment. If you're feeling stressed or down, don't ignore the problem. Talk with a friend or get outdoors and move your body. If that doesn't help, talk with your doctor or a trained counselor.

2. Your lungs

Women tend to worry more about cancer of the breast than of the lung. But, according to the American Cancer Society, more than 70,000 women die annually from lung cancer, while about 40,000 will die of breast cancer this year. Even women who don't smoke can get lung cancer, and women who do smoke are more prone to chronic bronchitis than men. Here are some ways to protect your lungs.

If you smoke, talk to your doctor about quitting. Patches, gums, and new medications make it easier to break the nicotine addiction.

Avoid secondhand smoke. If you live with a smoker, ask that person not to smoke in the house, and ask if he or she would like help quitting.

Check your home for radon. Scientists believe that exposure to radon plays a major role in lung cancer in nonsmokers.

3. Your heart

Heart disease remains the number-one killer of women in the U.S., but you can control the most important risk factors—high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, high cholesterol, inactivity, and obesity.

Get moving. Just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day can help keep your heart healthy and your weight under control. Join a walking group, ride your bike, swim at your YMCA, use that treadmill in your bedroom, or go dancing!

Change your oil. Use olive oil instead of animal fats, and eat more nuts, seeds, avocados, and seafood. Try low-fat or nonfat dairy products, and skip the fried foods.

Pass on the salt. Sodium causes fluid retention and raises blood pressure, so don't use more than 2,300 mg per day. A quarter teaspoon of salt contains 600 mg, and sodium often is hidden in processed foods and condiments.

4. Your bones

Like the foundation of a house, our bones usually don't get our attention until something goes wrong. But new studies show that there's more to bone health than avoiding fractures. Toxic metals like lead can accumulate in our bones over the course of our lives and, if bone loss occurs, the toxins can be released into the bloodstream. Women, especially after menopause, are more vulnerable to bone loss than men. New research suggests that lead in the bloodstream might help explain the onset of high blood pressure in women in their 50s.

The good news is that we're also learning new ways to keep bones healthy. In the past, we've placed too much emphasis on calcium and not enough on vitamin D3. Calcium intake is most important in adolescence, when the skeleton is forming. After growth is complete, vitamin D3, "the sunshine vitamin," may be more important to maintain healthy bones. Here's what you can do.

Get more vitamin D. As we spend less time outdoors and use more sunblock to protect our skin, vitamin D3 deficiency is becoming endemic. Most people need at least 1,000 IU daily—more than you get from foods and most multivitamins. A simple blood test can tell if you are getting enough vitamin D3. If not, take a supplement. And don't be afraid to spend some time in the sun—just apply sunblock to your face and hands and be sure to cover up after about 20 minutes so you don't burn.

Avoid exposure to heavy metals like lead. Surprisingly, calcium supplements may be contaminated with lead, because the sources of calcium in supplements—like seashells or cow bones—are contaminated. Also be wary of paint and dust in homes built before 1978 and of water coming from old pipes. Some imported herbal remedies also contain lead.

Add weight-bearing exercise to your workouts. Working against resistance helps stabilize and strengthen bones, which is especially important after menopause. Jogging, lifting weights, hiking, and rowing can help improve your bone health.

























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