National Women's Health and Fitness Day 2023
Every year, the last Wednesday of September is observed the National Women’s Health and Fitness Day. This year it is on 27 September 2023. Health is an important aspect across all genders, but this day signifies the gender-specific needs of men and women. Unique issues that affect women include pregnancy, menopause and conditions of female organs. Women are also susceptible to breast cancer, cervical cancer, osteoporosis, urinary tract infections etc.
This day was first observed in 2002 to promote the importance of physical fitness and health amongst women of all generations. National Women’s Health and Fitness Day was established by the Health Information Resource Center.
Importance of the National Women’s Health and Fitness Day
Women's health and fitness have been tainted by various myths and superstitions. Certain misconceptions related to pregnancy, childbirth, body shape and weight damaged the importance of healthy fitness among women. Corsets have been used to maintain body figures during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, damaged the pectoral muscles, increased difficulty in breathing and sometimes led to fainting. Others included working out at home, and using minimal weights in the gym- also called ‘reducing salons’ in the early 20th century. Reducing salons were used by women who wanted to lose weight.
We have come a long way, we now understand that the purpose of women’s fitness isn't reducing weight but remaining healthy, active and fit. The purpose of this day is to quash these misconceptions and promote awareness about women’s health.
Women have different health issues as compared to men. These include pregnancy, menopause and conditions affecting female organs. They are also susceptible to breast cancer, cervical cancer and osteoporosis. Read below about the prevalent health concerns in women:
Cardiovascular diseases are more common in males than females. However, women have a worse prognosis and are more likely to die after acute cardiovascular events such as coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure and other diseases. (Gao et al., 2019)
Preeclampsia- a condition that causes high blood pressure during pregnancy can increase your risk for a stroke.
Diabetes is not sex-specific, but it does show a higher occurrence in females. The complications caused due to diabetes are increased two-fold in women as compared to men. Women are also more susceptible to diabetes-related complications such as blindness, kidney disease and depression.
Maternal Health Issues:
Pregnancy is a challenging time for women’s health. From iron deficiency to high blood pressure, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, increased pressure on the heart, depression, and anxiety, a woman’s body faces a lot of challenges during that period. Doctors suggest that women take preventative measures by getting appropriate immunisations, exercise, diet and rest.
Urinary Tract Infections
Women have a shorter urethra when compared to men, making them more liable to urinary tract infections (UTIs). UTIs occur when bacteria infect the urinary tract and begin to multiply, causing an infection. Due to their shorter length in females, the bacteria easily spread to the bladder resulting in frequent urination, a painful burning sensation while urinating, and cloudy urine. The UTIs resolve on their own and are treated using antibiotics.
Larger surface area and microlesions caused during sex contribute to women's greater vulnerability to STDs. (Aral et al., 2004). They can produce diverse symptoms and effects at different parts of the female reproductive tract, including genital ulcer disease, vaginitis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility. There is also a higher risk of passing the infection to the child during childbirth. (Van Gerwen et al., 2022).
Gynecological cancers are among the most widespread cancers in women. Due to the stigma, variable pathology, and lack of awareness regarding cancer, most women report in advanced stages. Ovarian, cervical and breast cancers are amongst the most common malignancies affecting women in India. (Maheshwari et al., 2016). The risks can mitigated by a healthy lifestyle, exercise and quitting smoking.
Osteoporosis or weakening of the bones is a common condition that affects post-menopausal women. Other risk factors for osteoporosis include genetics, early menopause, medications, and low body mass index.
State of women's healthcare in India:
Even with the advances in healthcare, there is gender inequality in the research and treatments catered to areas specific to women. These gaps can cause major health issues and disparity in the treatment of largely preventable diseases.
The National Health Profile shows worrying numbers about women’s health in India. India is ranked 135th out of 146 nations in a global gender gap report. Despite women having a higher life expectancy, it does not necessitate a better quality of life.
Period cramps, thought to be normal, can severely disrupt the daily functioning of women. With a lack of menstrual literacy and period discussions being a taboo topic in the conservative society of India, minor problems can turn into serious consequences. Being a patriarchal society, 30% of women in India experience domestic violence, putting them at an increased risk of mental illness such as anxiety and depression. With restricted access to economic freedom, privacy, intense stigma and the internet and digital gadgets, access to mental healthcare remains a dream for many.
- India has a maternal mortality rate of 174 deaths per 100,000 live births
- Around 50 million women suffer from reproductive health problems.
- Anaemia affects around 50% of women of reproductive age.
- 96,922 deaths due to cervical cancer in 2018.
- ICMR estimates that 87,000 women died from breast cancer in 2020.
These numbers only point to the need of the hour, to prioritise women’s health and fitness.
Setting fitness goals for women
Fitness not only refers to physical well-being but also mental well-being. The first step is setting goals. Forbes suggests setting a SMART goal-setting strategy.
- Specific: How clear and well-defined is your goal?
- Measurable: How are you tracking your progress?
- Achievable: How doable is your goal?
- Realistic: Does your goal align with the purpose?
- Timely: Can you set a deadline for it?
Set Activity Goals instead of Exercise Goals:
Exercise does have benefits - increases your energy, maintains a healthy weight and may promote a longer health span. But sometimes gym memberships are expensive or you don't like regular exercise, or it is impossible for you to make time for the gym. What do you do then?
Find ways to make yourself active with routines you find enjoyable and rewarding- join a dance class, skip the regular gym to join pilates or take long walks. These are small steps towards a larger goal.
Meditation offers a wide range of health benefits- physical as well as mental. Meditation has been shown to decrease anxiety, depression and sometimes even pain. Start small with five minutes a day, slowly working your way up.
Sleep reinvigorates the body, boosts memory and improves your overall health. Embrace the positives of sleep, understand its importance and pledge to go to bed just a little earlier at night to get 7-8 hours of sleep.
Instead of focusing on a diet plan that leaves you unsatisfied, let's practice moderation and make small improvements. Incorporate the leaner meals, and add in some leafy veggies. Keep in mind, that you are eating to improve your health and not lose weight.
Get Regular Checks:
Scheduling a routine health screening is very important to identify early signs and diagnose potential problems. Here is a list of important health screenings a woman should get regularly:
- Breast Cancer Screening: As per the American Cancer Society, women aged 40+ should get mammograms every year. If you have a familial history of breast cancer, the doctor might advise genetic counselling or BRCA testing.
- Cervical Cancer Screening: This includes Pap smear and HPV testing. Every woman over the age of 21 must get a pap smear every 3 years. A pelvic exam is also done to check the health of your reproductive organs.
- Thyroid Function Tests: The typical range for total T4 levels in adults falls between 5.0 to 12.0 μg/dL, while the normal range for total T3 levels in adults is typically 80-220 ng/dL. When thyroid hormone levels are low, a condition known as hypothyroidism can lead to a sluggish metabolism and result in symptoms such as fatigue, dry skin, weight gain, and irregular menstrual cycles. Conversely, elevated levels of thyroid hormones, seen in hyperthyroidism, can lead to symptoms like a rapid heartbeat, anxiety, weight loss, and difficulty sleeping.
- Lipid Panel Test: The lipid panel test checks your cholesterol and triglyceride levels and is a deterministic tool for the risk of heart diseases.
- Blood Pressure Screenings: Blood pressure is affected by several hormonal and lifestyle factors. Women undergo physical stress due to hormone fluctuations, pregnancy and menopause which may increase the risk of heart disease.
‘Exercise is only to reduce weight’ ‘If you train you will look masculine’ - Myths, these are all myths. We now know that exercise is important for both mental and physical health.
- Mood Enhancement: Exercise improves mood, reducing depression, anxiety, and stress while boosting endorphin release.
- Weight Management: It aids weight loss by increasing energy expenditure and metabolism, with combined aerobic and resistance training effective for fat loss and muscle maintenance.
- Muscle and Bone Health: Exercise fosters muscle growth, reduces muscle breakdown, and maintains strong bones, crucial for ageing and potential bone density increase.
- Energy Boost: Physical activity raises energy levels and enhances cardiovascular health, combating fatigue.
- Disease Prevention: Exercise improves insulin sensitivity, heart health, and body composition, delaying or preventing type 2 diabetes, lowering blood pressure, and reducing cancer and chronic disease risk.
- Skin Health: Exercise boosts natural antioxidants and delays ageing signs by enhancing skin cell adaptations.
- Brain Function: It stimulates brain cell growth, vital for older adults to lower Alzheimer's disease risk.
- Improved Sleep: Exercise aids relaxation, enhances sleep quality, and reduces sleep latency, benefiting those with sleep disorders.
- Chronic Pain Management: Exercise can reduce pain and improve life quality even with chronic pain.
- Sexual Health: Enhancing sexual performance, pleasure, and frequency, exercise may improve and boost sex drive in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.
Empowering Women to Take Control of Their Health
Empowering women to take control of their health is essential for their overall well-being and societal progress. Access to education and resources is key, enabling informed decisions about nutrition, exercise, and preventive care. Healthcare providers should foster open communication and provide gender-sensitive care, addressing women's unique needs. Promoting regular check-ups, screenings, and mental health support can enhance early detection and management of conditions. Community initiatives and technology can facilitate access to information and support, empowering women to prioritize their health, and leading to healthier, more confident lives.
For a community to thrive, taking care of women’s health is very important. The goal of Women’s Health and Fitness Day is to promote and spread awareness regarding the same. India, being a developing country is dealing with a lot of health issues and stigma. Keeping the same in mind, DecodeAge has created supplements to target specific health concerns and cater to specific needs - stamina, sports performance, menopause relief bundle etc.
Gao, Z., Chen, Z., Sun, A., & Deng, X. (2019, December). Gender differences in cardiovascular disease. Medicine in Novel Technology and Devices, 4, 100025. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.medntd.2019.100025
Aral, S. O., Hawkes, S., Biddlecom, A., & Padian, N. (2004, November). Disproportionate Impact of Sexually Transmitted Diseases on Women1. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 10(11), 2029–2030. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid1011.040623_02
Van Gerwen, O. T., Muzny, C. A., & Marrazzo, J. M. (2022, August 2). Sexually transmitted infections and female reproductive health. Nature Microbiology, 7(8), 1116–1126. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41564-022-01177-x
Maheshwari, A., Kumar, N., & Mahantshetty, U. (2016, July). Gynecological cancers: A summary of published Indian data. South Asian Journal of Cancer, 05(03), 112–120. https://doi.org/10.4103/2278-330x.187575
- What is National Women's Health and Fitness Day?
National Women's Health and Fitness Day is an annual observance in the United States dedicated to promoting women's health and well-being through physical activity, fitness, and healthy lifestyle choices.
- Who created National Fitness Day?
National Women's Health and Fitness Day was created by the Health Information Resource Center, a U.S.-based organization dedicated to promoting health and wellness awareness.
- What is the importance of National Women's Health and Fitness Day?
National Women's Health and Fitness Day raises awareness about the importance of physical activity and healthy living among women. It encourages women of all ages to prioritize their health, engage in fitness activities, and make informed choices for a healthier lifestyle.
- What are the themes for Women's Fitness Day?
The themes for National Women's Health and Fitness Day may vary from year to year, but they typically revolve around promoting physical activity, nutrition, mental health, and overall well-being for women.
- What are the issues affecting women’s health?
Women's health faces various issues, including reproductive health, breast and cervical cancer, maternal health, osteoporosis, heart disease, mental health challenges, and disparities in healthcare access and treatment. Addressing these issues is crucial for ensuring the well-being of women.