Health is defined by the World Health Organization as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Gender remains an important social determinant of health, since women’s health is influenced not just by their biology but also by conditions such as poverty, employment, and family responsibilities. Many research groups argue for a broader definition of health pertaining to women, considering their important role with regards to their reproductive responsibility which has a distinct difference compared to men’s health. Even in developed countries pregnancy and childbirth are associated with substantial risks to women with maternal mortality accounting for more than a quarter of a million deaths per year. This mortality rate is even worse in developing countries. While the rates of the leading causes of death, cardiovascular disease, cancer and lung disease, are similar in women and men, women have different experiences. Lung cancer has overtaken all other types of cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women, followed by breast cancer, colorectal, ovarian, uterine and cervical cancers. Out of all women related diseases, breast cancer remains the commonest cancer in developed countries and is one of the more important chronic diseases of women around the world. Research shows women’s life expectancy is greater than that of men, and they have lower death rates throughout life, regardless of race and geographic region. The major differences in life expectancy for women between developed and developing countries lie in the childbearing years. If a woman survives this period, the differences between the two regions become less marked.
To remain healthy, women are expected to follow an active and healthy lifestyle. It includes healthy eating, physical activities, weight management, and stress management. A balanced diet is a cornerstone of health. Women, like men, should enjoy a variety of foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, low-fat dairy and lean protein. A recent study found that four bad behaviors; smoking, drinking alcohol, not exercising, and not eating enough fruits and veggies can hustle you into an early grave, and, in effect, age you by as many as 12 years. Exercise and healthy eating habits help to lower blood pressure. Exercise help to lower our heart rate and build a stronger heart. With regular exercise and proper diet, over time, our risk for cardiovascular diseases and type-II diabetes will fall. Healthy living helps lowers bad cholesterol levels (LDL).
Answer to a key question which should be understood is: How much body fat is enough? Experts agree that women need at least 12 to 14 percent essential body fat just to sustain vital bodily functions. What many women fail to realize is that they need at least 2 to 4 percent body fat beyond that for optimal health and wellness. On the other end of the spectrum, having more than 32 percent body fat raises our risks for developing serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, cancers (of the breasts, the uterus, the kidneys, and the colon), gallbladder disease, coronary artery disease, diabetes, and osteoarthritis. Therefore, most experts recommend that body fat percentages for normal, healthy women should be in the 18 to 25 percent range. The following chart shows classifications of various body fat ranges for women.
|Athletic||Less than 17 %|
|Obese||35% and above|
Athletic Less than 17 %
Above Average 25-29%
Over Fat 29-35%
Obese 35% and above
Although knowing one’s body fat percentage is an accurate way of understanding one status of well being but methods available to know it are quite sophisticated. Just standing on weight scale can only give measure of our weight and does not provide any idea of its fat percentage. Methods like hydrostatic weighing, Skinfold measurements, Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) are used to know one’s body fat content. Another way of understanding the state of well being is known as body mass index. It is a calculation that relates to a person’s weight to his or her height. The BMI is widely used today despite its flaws. For a sedentary individual, the BMI is a good indicator of the amount of total body fat that the person has. For anyone who works out regularly (and therefore has more muscle tissue), however, the BMI overestimates the amount of body fat the person has because it assumes most of the weight to be fat. The BMI is also less accurate for young adults who are not fully grown, adults who are naturally very lean, and adults over sixty-five years of age.
BMI= [(Weight in pounds)/(Height in inches ×Height in inches)] × 703
The National Institute of Health defines “overweight” as having a BMI of 27.3 or more for women and 27.8 or more for men. Obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or more, which usually translates into being about 30 pounds overweight.
Adults Women Men
Underweight <19.1 <20.7 Normal range 19.1–25.8 20.7–26.4 Marginally overweight 25.8–27.3 26.4–27.8 Overweight 27.3–32.3 27.8–31.1 Obese >32.3 >31.1
Severely obese 35–40 35–40
A great deal of research supports the notion that people with apple shaped bodies are at greater risk of developing major health problems than are those with pear-shaped figures. The waist-to-hip ratio can provide a quick snapshot of (1) how you store body fat (2) whether you are at risk for weight-related health problems.
To calculate your waist-to-hip ratio, simply measure the narrowest circumference of your waist and the circumference of your hips at the widest part of your buttocks with a tape measure, then divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement. Women should have a ratio of .80 or less. Men should have a ratio of less than 1.0. The higher the number, the more apple-shaped the individual and the greater his or her risk of developing weight-related health problems such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Regular Exercise: For most people, weight loss is the main motivator for getting into shape. But there are a lot of other benefits to exercising than just fitting into those skinny jeans. Believe it or not, regular physical activity can improve our standard of life, decrease our cancer risk, make our skin glow and more.
Over the years, studies have found that staying active can boost mind function and energy, decreasing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Exercise can be one of the most important things you can do to prevent osteoporosis, protect yourself from falls and help maintain bone mass
Exercise not only helps us maintain our muscle mass, it can increase it
Exercise helps the intestinal muscles break down food and move it through your system correctly by strengthening the abdominal muscles and minimizing sluggishness
Exercise boosts our mood, helps us relax and makes us feel better, keeping anxiety and depression under control
Exercise reduces risk of lung, colon and breast cancers
Exercise enhances the blood flow to our skin making it look better
It is always better to schedule exercise daily, and in reality, due to various unforeseen events, we’ll probably end up working out three to five times per week which is the recommended amount. So planning on working out daily is useful because, realistically, it won’t actually happen every day. Generally, walking for 30 minutes covers a distance of 2.0 to 2.5 km and burns about 125 calories. Walking 5 miles (approx 10,000 steps) can burn up to 625 calories. Therefore, anything around 3 miles walk daily can be a good distance to cover. There could be many benefits of regular walking, few are as under:
- reducing the risk of coronary disease and stroke
- lowering blood pressure
- reducing cholesterol levels in blood
- increasing bone density, hence preventing osteoporosis
- managing the negative effects of osteoarthritis
- easing back pain
- improves general health and longevity