OWH Director: How I Make My Health a Priority

The 20th annual National Women’s Health Week is here! I am thrilled to be part of the celebration this year as the new director of the Office on Women’s Health. As a practicing physician, I have been focused on women and girls’ health issues my entire career and am excited to bring my knowledge to this role and continue to help women and girls achieve the best possible health. 

Dorothy Fink, M.D.National Women’s Health Week is about taking steps to achieve better health, such as visiting a health care provider for a checkup and talking about what screenings and vaccines you may need, including the MMR vaccine to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella; getting plenty of physical activity; eating healthy foods; paying attention to your mental health; and practicing safe behaviors, like not texting and driving. Even though these steps are essential for good health, I think most of us can agree that it is not always easy to build them into our daily lives. Sure, we know these steps can help us feel our best and prevent serious diseases and conditions, like heart disease and diabetes, but sometimes it is hard to get motivated or stay on track, especially when we have so many other responsibilities.

Also, what works for one woman may not work for another. Each one of us is unique — we all have different goals, different motivations and reasons for getting or staying healthy, and different ways of achieving our health goals. The key to building healthy habits into our lives is to find what works for us as individuals. We want to help you do that during National Women’s Health Week! Here are some steps to uncover ways to be healthier every day.

  1. Reflect on your health. Health is a lifelong journey, and it certainly is not a straight line. There are stops along the way, forks in the road, and sometimes, your destination changes as you evolve and change. With my new work schedule, I have been reflecting on my health journey — thinking about where I am right now and where I want to go. I have thought about questions like these: Why do I want to be healthy? What am I already doing to lead a healthy life? What do I want to improve?

What I realized is that I am motivated by my desire to have a strong and healthy body for life. One of the activities I want to work on is making strength training a bigger part of my daily routine because healthy muscles and strong bones are so important for all women and girls. They help us do important everyday tasks and maintain good posture. My patients truly inspire me when it comes to improving muscle strength. Yes, it is important to figure out a fitness routine that gets you moving — anything from dancing to walking to swimming to running — but muscle strength is just as important. I have taken care of too many patients with compression fractures of their spines who could have benefited from stronger back muscles. Think about adding some dumbbells to your fitness routine! Try committing to 10 minutes a day of physical activity. Small steps can make a big difference over time!

This National Women’s Health Week, I encourage you to try reflecting on your health, too! Take a pulse check on your health to see where you are and where you want to go from here.

  1. Set manageable goals and take small steps. You have heard it before, but simple steps can make a big difference in your health. Drastic changes can be overwhelming and tough to maintain. That is why I opt to get creative when possible! I look for timesavers and small ways to work toward my goals throughout the day. For example, using a slow cooker can save time if you love the smell of food cooking when you arrive home. My goal is to try one new recipe a month, so by the end of the year that is 12 new recipes for my collection.

Another strategy is preparing meals on the weekends. I have had many patients make dramatic improvements to their health by preparing meals on the weekends for the week ahead. Additionally, having food ready to eat after a busy day can help prevent you from eating late at night, which can impact your blood glucose levels. Many of my patients living with diabetes would show me their blood glucose levels the morning after eating late at night, and their glucose levels were often higher compared to when they ate earlier in the evening. Our bodies need time to metabolize food. Going to bed on a full stomach makes it harder for our bodies to metabolize what we ate for dinner. Eating before 8 p.m. and walking after meals are small steps you can take to improve your health.

Ask yourself about the different reasons why it might be hard for you to focus on a particular area of your health. Once you know what your challenges are, you can create a plan to overcome your obstacles step-by-step.

  1. Think about what is most important to you. My family and friends are a key part of my health. One of my motivating factors for taking care of myself is that I need to maintain my health so that I can be there for my family.

Healthy relationships are integral to good health. It can be challenging when relatives are not in the same city as you, but it makes it all the more important to talk with them frequently and plan visits. Even during busy weeks, I try to call my grandma because talking with her always reminds me of what matters most in my life. One of my grandfather’s friends from World War II is 99 years old! Staying in contact with him over the years has reminded me to be active. (He continued to jog into his 90s and still does an occasional 5K race!) We are planning to visit him this summer and I cannot wait to listen to more stories about his time with my grandfather during WWII and the years since then. It is sad to talk about for sure, but in health care, we know how loneliness impacts health. Think about how you can put a smile on someone’s face by letting them know you care about them. You may very well find that your heart smiles in return. 

Building healthy habits into your life takes practice, and all we can do is learn as we go. Hopefully, pausing to reflect on your health, finding simple tweaks you can make to your routine, and thinking about what is most important to you will help you take the next step on your health journey. If you are not sure where to start, we can help. Please use our online tool to explore where you are and where you want to go. Based on your responses, you will receive personalized tips so you can start working toward your next healthy destination today!