Why Your Health Should Be a Priority

Published: May 11, 2021Updated: March 2, 2022

*For the purpose of education beyond the blog, we've included links to medical studies and articles that use the terms 'women' and 'men' when referring to medical conditions, treatments, or services, as well as collected medical data on sex and health. We strive for more inclusive and expansive research, studies, and health care in this space.

Alongside the CDC and Office of Women's Health, we’re celebrating National Women’s Health Week from May 9 to May 15, 2021. Let’s look at the most significant areas of research and change over the last several years. And to help you prioritize your health, we’ll also share some of the most important health tips for women and people who menstruate, as well as common health issues.

We’ve made major progress with breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and cervical cancer

Let’s start with the wins: over the last 30 years, mortality rates from breast cancer have definitely gone down. Thanks to initiatives like Breast Cancer Awareness Month and other major nonprofits dedicated to curing breast cancer, there have been a ton of clinical trials and studies. 

The result? Better early detection methods, more identification of risk factors, and a wider array of treatment options that improve survival and offer a better quality of life after treatment. (However, it’s important to note that Black patients still have higher mortality rates from breast cancer than white patients do, despite a lower incidence—just another example of the barriers Black people face in health care.)

The prevalence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) has also been greatly reduced as research has focused more on the correlation between sex and different risk factors. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death each year, but according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women and individuals assigned female at birth might have different contributing risk factors to consider. 

For example, prenatal and postpartum changes could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, thanks to conditions associated with pregnancy (like gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes). Also, hormone therapies can affect hypertension, blood clots, and other cardiovascular issues. Anyone undergoing gender-affirming hormone therapy, hormone therapy for menopause or fertility, or hormonal birth control should talk with their provider about how to best maintain heart health during therapy.

Finally, cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates have only dropped since the 1960s, in large part due to the creation of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. Here’s more info about the HPV vaccine and other ways to protect your cervical health.

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Common health issues

While many people probably hear “National Women’s Health Week” and assume that refers only to reproductive health, that’s far from accurate. And in fact, to reduce the health of women and people who menstruate to only reproductive issues can be dangerous, because it ignores conditions that affect both sexes (like heart disease) and doesn’t allow room for mental health. Plus, health is also affected by social and cultural conditions, like poverty, access to childcare, and discrimination—so keep these things in mind as you’re reading.

Reproductive cancers: The most common and life-threatening reproductive cancers are cervical, ovarian, uterine and prostate cancers. For all cancers, prevention efforts, early detection and adequate treatment is key. Pap and human papillomavirus [HPV] tests, preventive measures, such as HPV vaccinations, and treatment services, including radiation, chemotherapy and surgery have come a long way. In fact, since the Pap test was introduced in the 1950s, annual cervical cancer deaths have decreased by 74 percent.

Reproductive health: Sexual and reproductive health issues account for around one-third of health issues faced by people of reproductive age. The biggest risk factor? Unsafe sex—learn more about the risks of unsafe sex here.

Pregnancy and postpartum health: The U.S. has one of the worst maternal mortality rates among industrialized countries, and for Black patients, the issue is even more dire. The pregnancy-related mortality rate for Black patients is 2.5 times the rate for white patients, and 3 times the rate for Hispanic patients. We talked about this more here during Black Maternal Health Week.

Mental health: Y’all, it has been a YEAR. With everything we know about the mind-body connection, anxiety, depression, and stress may be affecting your overall health. Taking care of your mental health is as important as getting to your doctor. If you or a loved one is facing a mental health crisis, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Best health tips for you

So with all that in mind, what are the best things you can do for your physical (and mental) health? Try adding these tips into your daily routine:

Find movement that you love: Regular exercise reduces your risk of heart disease and cancer, while also improving your mood and lowering your stress levels. And if the idea of dragging yourself to the gym three times a week sounds like a, well, drag, look for ways to move that bring your joy, like walking the dog, having a solo dance party, or dusting off the old Wii and challenging your roomie to tennis. 

Learn to manage your mental health: Whether it’s journaling, meditating, or hitting the punching bag as hard as you can when you’re stressed, taking care of your mental health gives you the energy and the empowerment to care for your physical health, too. 

Eat a nutrient-rich diet: We don’t advocate for one type of diet over another, but we do believe in the general principles of eating mostly whole foods, fruits and vegetables that you actually like (news flash: if you don’t like kale, it’s totally fine to never eat it), and adding in multivitamins or supplements if your doctor suggests it. Talk to your doctor about what specific nutrients you should be taking in, especially if you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or have certain food allergies.

Stay on top of your reproductive health: We know, it’s annoying to schedule your yearly with your OB-GYN—but it’s so, so important for tracking your health concerns over time. At this appointment, you can bring up any concerns you have, like whether you need an STI screening. Invest the time in finding a doctor that you feel totally comfortable with, and you’ll be more likely to make (and keep) your yearly check-ups. 

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