Women: Make a Plan for a Long, Healthy Life

Women: Make a Plan for a Long, Healthy Life

Women: Make a Plan for a Long, Healthy Life

You can do a lot to stay healthy. Making sure you plan your preventive health care visits is at the top of the list. Getting those recommended screenings on time is an important part of living a long, healthy life.

Don’t put it off. Listening to your body and being proactive can help keep you well.

Be Proactive with Health Screenings

Well-Woman Checkup
An annual well-woman exam is a good first step toward staying healthy.

Well-woman checks are different from any other visit for sickness or injury. Along with a full physical exam, you can talk about your health history and habits with your doctor. Together, you can set health goals for the year. Your visit may involve:

  • Vaccines you may be missing
  • Tests and screenings to catch health issues early
  • Education and counseling to guide your health choices

Breast Cancer
About 85 percent of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of the disease. That’s why it’s so important for all women to follow the recommended screening guidelines. Mammograms help find breast cancer early, when treatments are more likely to be successful.

Nearly 13 percent of women in the United States will develop breast cancer leaving site icon at some point during their lifetime. Women who have a personal history of breast disease or a strong family history can face a higher risk.

Still, risk factors don't tell the whole story. According to the American Cancer Society, “Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get the disease. Most women who have one or more breast cancer risk factors never develop the disease, while many women with breast cancer have no apparent risk factors (other than being a woman and growing older).”

Talk to your doctor about the screening plan that is best for you.

Cervical Cancer
Warning signs of cervical cancer can include abnormal vaginal bleeding, spotting, discharge or bleeding after sex. Signs of advanced cancer can include pain, trouble urinating and swollen legs. But cervical cancer often has no symptoms.

Fortunately, it can be detected early with screening and is largely preventable with a vaccine.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine leaving site icon protects women against the two types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Together with routine Pap exams, the HPV vaccine helps women dramatically cut their risk for cervical cancer.

A Pap test, leaving site icon also called a Pap smear, finds changes in cervical cells caused by HPV. These cells can become cancer if they are not treated. Talk with your doctor to learn more about testing and vaccination.

Keep an Eye on These Important Health Issues

Heart Disease
Heart disease leads to heart attacks, the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S. But many heart attacks are preventable. Lifestyle choices play a big role. To lower your risk, don’t smoke, and pay attention to your diet, exercise and stress. Learn more about how to protect your heart.

Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer leaving site icon is often called the silent killer because more than 70 percent of women aren’t diagnosed until the cancer has spread.

There is no screening test for ovarian cancer. And early on, it rarely causes any symptoms. Even advanced-stage ovarian cancer may cause few symptoms. Symptoms tend to be non-specific. Bloating, abdominal pain and gut issues are often mistaken for constipation or irritable bowel.

There is good news, though. When caught early, ovarian cancer can be successfully treated. Still, pelvic exams, ultrasound and blood screening tests can be unreliable at catching it. That’s why it’s important to know your risks. leaving site icon Middle-aged and older women have a higher risk. Along with age, other risks factors include:

  • Family history
  • BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • History of breast, uterine, colorectal, cervical or skin cancer
  • Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish heritage
  • Problems getting pregnant; never given birth
  • Endometriosis (when the uterus lining grows beyond the uterus)

Understand your risk and pay attention to your body. If it seems like something isn’t right, talk to your doctor about your concerns.

Menopause is a normal part of a woman's life, and it doesn’t require medical treatment. But help is available for managing symptoms and preventing or managing long-term health problems that may come with aging, says the Mayo Clinicleaving site icon

Menopause doesn’t happen all at once, and menopause affects each woman differently. As your body changes over several years, you may have irregular periods. For some, changing hormone levels can cause symptoms like hot flashes and problems sleeping in the beginning and other issues later on, says the Office on Women’s Healthleaving site icon

Talking to your doctor about symptom relief can help. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. You know your body best, and you’re the best advocate for your health.

Take Charge of Your Health

With smart, proactive steps, you can improve your chances of enjoying a longer and healthier life.

Move More to Stress Less

You know staying active helps keep your body healthy. But it can also be a big part of successfully managing stress.

Chronic stress can harm your whole body. During tough times, some people turn to smoking, drinking, overeating or other unhealthy habits to cope with stress. Unfortunately, they all lead to health problems.

Since we can’t avoid stress, it’s important to learn healthy ways to manage it. Try deep-breathing breaks. Make time for yourself to relax and unwind. Get a good night’s sleep.

One of the best things you can do to manage stress and stay healthier is get moving. Go for a walk, take a yoga class — just move your body. Activity reduces the effects of stress on your body and helps improve your mental and physical health.

If being more active is a struggle for you, try finding new activities that you enjoy or asking friends and family to join you. Bonus: social connections are another good way to manage stress.

If making time for activity is difficult, try breaking it down into small bursts of activity, or movement snacks, spread throughout the week.

Sources: Menopause symptoms and relief, leaving site icon Office on Women’s Health, 2021; Menopause, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2023; Heart Disease, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2022; Ovarian Cancer, leaving site icon CDC, 2023; Cervical Cancer, leaving site icon CDC, 2022; HPV Vaccine, leaving site icon CDC, 2021; About Breast Cancerleaving site icon American Cancer Society; Breast Cancer Facts and Statistics, leaving site icon Breastcancer.org, 2023; Mammograms, leaving site icon Cancer.gov, 2023; Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2021

Originally published 1/272016; Revised 2019, 2023