Staying healthy as a woman

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What are the most important nutrients women need?


While a lot depends on diet and lifestyle habits, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services say many women are not consuming enough folate (a B vitamin) or calcium. Folate (or folic acid) helps support growth and development, prevents certain birth defects, and anemia during pregnancy, and may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.


Calcium is not only important to bone health but also overall health. Not taking enough calcium, beginning as a teenager, can increase your risk of osteoporosis (a painful bone-thinning disorder) later in life. The recommended level of daily folate intake in women is 400 micrograms daily, unless you are pregnant (600 micrograms) or nursing (500 micrograms).


In terms of daily calcium requirements, women aged 19-50 need 1,000 milligrams; after age 50, 1,200 milligrams. Pregnant or nursing women aged 18 and younger should get 1,300 milligrams. Women should also get adequate amounts of vitamin D to help the body use calcium.


What is the best source of nutrients for a busy woman — food or vitamin supplements?


The best sources of any nutrients are fresh, whole foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. Studies are mixed as to the benefits and possible risks of taking a multivitamin supplement. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.


How much exercise does a woman need for weight control?


To prevent weight gain, the National Women’s Health Center suggests 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on most days of the week, while watching caloric intake. To keep weight off they suggest 60 to 90 minutes daily of vigorous activity. Check with your doctor before increasing activity levels.


If a woman is not overweight, does she still need to exercise? And if so, what benefits will she gain?


To help protect against chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers, including breast cancer, experts say every woman should have a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity weekly, which breaks down to about 30 minutes of moderate activity (like walking, dancing, or bike riding) most days of the week. Regular exercise can also help lower blood pressure, keep bones and joints healthy, reduce anxiety and depression, help you sleep better, and control pain from arthritis.

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