Every May is National Women’s Health Month and for many it’s a time to resolve to make positive changes towards our health and well-being.
At the same time, making changes to our lives — no matter how small — can feel daunting! We’ve lived through a global pandemic for nearly three years. COVID-19 and its many cascading challenges have pushed our usual healthcare practices, routines and priorities to the backburner (understandably so). In addition to the immediate threat of the virus itself, the pandemic also worsened health conditions for many groups — including women, who often shoulder a greater share of family caregiving responsibilities, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.
A woman’s health often takes a backseat as she cares for others
A University of British Columbia study found that women experiencing stress were more likely to have hypertension (high blood pressure). Meanwhile, another Drexel University study suggested that women navigating stress linked to work challenges, social situations, and life circumstances face a higher risk of coronary disease than men.
So before you feel guilty or embarrassed to admit you haven’t seen a dentist or had a wellness check in years, take a deep breath and remember: there’s no time like the present to start taking care of yourself.
But where to begin? The good news is you can start small, and every bit counts. Here are some important steps you can take towards better health.
- Schedule your annual wellness check and preventive health screenings
- Mental health matters
- COVID care
- Committing to fitness
- Take personal inventory on substances used in your life
- Make a financial plan for your health care this year
- Take baby steps
1. Schedule regular screenings and preventive care
There are many routes to getting your health back on track, but one surefire way to help regain control is scheduling your annual physical, suggests family medicine specialist Colton Redding in Banner Health.
What to do?
Reconnect with your primary care doctor or find a new one, if you’ve moved since your last visit. Consider setting up a dentist appointment, eye exam or other exams to screen for, and manage chronic conditions, suggests Redding.
That could mean a cardiologist, dermatologist, dietician or another specialist. If you don’t feel comfortable meeting in person, many practices offer video visit options and for more urgent issues or questions, Solv Now can help you get a video visit with a US-based provider in less than 15 minutes.
Here’s a checklist to get you started on a routine wellness check.
- Blood pressure and pulse measurement
- Blood test for cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood glucose levels (hbA1c)
- Measure BMI
- Physical exam or annual physicals
- Mammogram and breast cancer screening
- Dental checkup
- Eye check
FOR CHRONIC CONDITIONS
These tests must be scheduled based on consultation with your doctor. Your age is also a key factor in determining what tests you may need.
- Cardiologist for heart health: ECG, echocardiogram, treadmill test (TMT)
- Skin cancer screening
- Liver function tests
- Kidney function tests
Why do you need it?
Preventive care is super important for good health. It is even more vital if you have dependents who rely on you. Consider preventive screening as putting your oxygen mask on first so you can help loved ones with theirs.
Redding suggests setting up screening exams, like mammograms, colonoscopies or skin cancer screenings, among others. It’s great to stay ahead of the curve and get back into the habit of regular checks for conditions like cancer, which is most treatable when detected early.
What tests do I focus on first?
If setting up a slew of appointments all at once will demand more time than you have, or simply feel overwhelming, Redding suggests spacing them out. This approach can also help alleviate financial pressure for those who are worried about spending too much all at once on copays, says Redding.
Move in order of importance: book urgent appointments before the less pressing ones. And in general, Redding recommends taking health goals slowly and managing expectations: “I always suggest wading into the pool, not diving headfirst with these changes,” he said. Chipping away at defined weekly or monthly goals can also help you mark your progress — which will build momentum to continue your habits throughout the year.
2. Mental health matters
It’s ok to not be ok. 50 million Americans battle mental health issues and the past few years have been extremely stressful. The pandemic and its related lockdowns and restrictions aggravated the regular stressors of daily life, for adults and our youth.
In 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General even issued an advisory on the “youth mental health crisis” exposed by the pandemic. In the advisory, U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy stated, “Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide — and rates have increased over the past decade.” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
Even as life returns to normal, there are a lot of changes and uncertainty to navigate. It's perfectly fine to seek help from a professional when you need it. If you struggle with anxiety, depression, or stress, consider speaking with a professional.
Currently, there is a high demand for mental health services but a shortage of mental health professionals. If you need to speak with someone soon, urgent care centers can help. The CDC recommends visiting an urgent care center or walk-in clinic if you need immediate assistance. If you are having thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself or others, seek care at the nearest emergency room.
3. COVID care
There’s been 51 million COVID cases in the U.S. as of December 21, according to Statista. If you’re one of the many people who have tested positive, you may have experienced symptoms that have affected (or continue to affect) your health and exercise habits, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating or rapid heartbeat, according to Dr. Joseph Herrera of Mt. Sinai Medical Center .
Recovery or lingering symptoms may have – quite understandably — gotten in the way of jumpstarting your fitness routine. Dr. Herrera suggests approaching the transition back exercise slowly, consulting specialists and seeking support at post-COVID care centers. People can get evaluated to see if they qualify for programs offered at places like the Mount Sinai Post-COVID Care Center, for example.
Dr. Setarah-Shenas of Mt. Sinai Medical Center points out that many patients aren’t able to return to their baseline exercise levels right away. The “rule of tens” can be a helpful guide, says Dr. Herrera. Take patients who could run 10 miles before COVID: they might cut that distance in half (five miles) after getting sick, then extend exercise intensity or duration by 10 percent (half a mile) every 10 days as they recover. You should see a physician or expert cardiologist if you experience symptoms like chest pains or shortness of breath, says Dr. Setareh-Shenas.
4. Committing to fitness
Getting back to health must involve a fitness routine. According to the Mayo clinic, exercise helps you combat diseases, improves your mood, energizes, and helps you sleep.
Experts at the US Department of Health and Human Services recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity, spread out over the course of a week.
Start small and work your way up. To get started, you do not need fancy equipment, a gym membership, or a personal trainer: lace up those sneakers and take a brisk walk down the block.
You could get a workout buddy to help you stay on track and make fitness fun. If you prefer more social settings, consider a group class or a running group. The goal is to start moving. Make sure you warm up before a workout and cool down after to minimize the risk of injury.
If it’s been a while since you last exercised, consider getting a wellness check and talking to a medical professional first. Solv can help you find and schedule a visit with a provider near you. If you prefer an online consultation first, Solv Now can get you a video visit with a US-based provider in less than 15 minutes.
5. Take personal inventory of your alcohol, tobacco, and other substance use and learn how they impact your life
As adults, we all know that our health is essential. But when we’re pulling in various directions, how do we find the time to take care of ourselves? To cope with life’s stresses, some of us self-medicate with alcohol, tobacco, or other substances.
As a commitment to better health, one way to start is to take an honest account of your alcohol and substance use and their impact on your physical and mental health.
Consider talking to a provider about your alcohol, substance use disorders or mental health. Solv can help you get a same-day appointment with a provider near you or talk to a US-based provider via video within 15 minutes using Solv Now.
According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundations, the substance use crisis in the U.S. worsened over the past few years. More than 1 in 10 adults reported starting or increasing the use of alcohol or drugs to deal with the COVID pandemic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — and the rise in substance use issues disproportionately affected people of color.
For some Americans who were managing substance use issues or in recovery, the pandemic limited their access to treatment, according to a study in the International Journal of Drug Policy.
Many of us have been coping with trauma, stress, grief, loss, financial hardships, and existential uncertainty during the past two years — and it’s important to remember that everybody responds in different ways.
This year presents a chance to go for screenings, talk to your provider about concerns regarding you or a loved one’s substance use, schedule the elective procedure you’ve put off, or check in on treatment plans.
6. Make a financial plan for your health care this year
It can be empowering to couple financial and healthcare goals as you get back on track with your health.
As you refill daily prescriptions, do your research to ensure you’re getting the best deal available, suggests Everyday Health. Consider using mail order for medications, such as birth control. Plenty of medications can be delivered by online pharmacies, according to Everyday Health. In addition, online discounts may help reduce costs of prescriptions, over-the-counter medicine or other supplies. Talk to your provideras well, who might have insights into cost-saving tips.
Managing your deductibles
Do you have a high deductible health plan? (This means that you must spend at least $1,400 as an individual or $2,800 as a family before your insurance covers care, according to Healthcare.gov). If so, keep in mind that you’re starting from scratch each new year. Take some time to consider what elective medical care you’re eligible for seek this year, when you might pursue it, and how spending will work before you reach your threshold.
Do you expect to meet your deductible, and how long do you estimate that might take? Are you planning to put money into your HSA to cover health-related expenses? Do you plan to ask your providers about self-pay prices (versus going through insurance) before you meet your deductible? Note that amounts paid via self-pay are not typically applied to your deductible and you should ask your health plan if you have questions.
These are all helpful questions to consider in advance, rather than under a time crunch or in emergency situations. This May, 2022 can be the year of price transparency when it comes to your care, particularly with new laws taking effect that are meant to make health care costs clearer.
7. Take baby steps
The key takeaway here: start small! Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good— try to get moving in some capacity.
Spread out your appointments, take time now to reflect on your priorities and start tackling what feels most important. You’ll feel encouraged as you begin to make progress and remind yourself what you’re capable of (it can help to celebrate those wins along the way, too!).
But above all, remember that you’re already doing a lot by getting back to normal life after navigating a pandemic — and that you’re doing your best!
Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
- The Female Face of Family Caregiving (November 2018) https://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/resources/economic-justice/female-face-family-caregiving.pdf
- Social connections and hypertension in women and men: a population-based cross-sectional study of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging https://journals.lww.com/jhypertension/Abstract/2021/04000/Social_connections_and_hypertension_in_women_and.11.aspx
- Associations of Job Strain, Stressful Life Events, and Social Strain With Coronary Heart Disease in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study (February 23, 2021) https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.120.017780
- 3 Ways to Get Your Health Back on Track after the Pandemic (May 19, 2021) https://www.bannerhealth.com/healthcareblog/advise-me/3-ways-to-get-your-health-back-on-track-after-the-pandemic
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts (December 16, 2021) https://www.statista.com/topics/6084/coronavirus-covid-19-in-the-us/#dossierKeyfigures
- I Recovered From COVID-19. How Do I Get Back In Shape? (May 17, 2021) https://health.mountsinai.org/blog/i-recovered-from-covid-19-how-do-i-get-back-into-shape/
- Substance Use Issues Are Worsening Alongside Access to Care (August 12, 2021) https://www.kff.org/policy-watch/substance-use-issues-are-worsening-alongside-access-to-care/
- Experiences with substance use disorder treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic: Findings from a multistate survey https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955395921004552
- A Consumer’s Guide to Drug Discounts (April 8, 2019) https://www.everydayhealth.com/healthy-living/consumers-guide-drug-discounts/
- HHS Announces Rule to Protect Consumers from Surprise Medical Bills (July 1, 2021) https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2021/07/01/hhs-announces-rule-to-protect-consumers-from-surprise-medical-bills.html
- U.S. Surgeon General Issues Advisory on Youth Mental Health Crisis Further Exposed by COVID-19 Pandemic (December 7, 2021) https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2021/12/07/us-surgeon-general-issues-advisory-on-youth-mental-health-crisis-further-exposed-by-covid-19-pandemic.html
- Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (August 25, 2021) https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/physical-activity-guidelines