Work, Family, Self: Prioritizing Preventative Health for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

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In 2010 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed the following as the leading causes of death for women:

  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • cancer
  • chronic lower respiratory disease

Prevention for these diseases can be possible with lifestyle management, and since January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month the spirit of the month is to encourage women to take action against this preventable cancer.

Prevention is a tricky thing, but cancer risk is significantly reduced with a healthy diet and exercise. But sometimes even those statistics are not enough to convince my clients to set aside time each day to meet basic fitness health standards. These same clients are the opposite of what I would consider lazy or failing, a common description thrown around to describe people suffering from preventable health problems. They are well-educated and successful. What leads to their inaction, a stubborn halt to changing behavior, is a conflict of values. Women I have worked with often are acting as a caretaker – either for ailing parents, for a busy spouse, or for their children, regardless of their professional career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012 showed that more than twice as many women care for children as a primary activity. For sick family members, mainly aging spouses or parents, women will provide up to 50% more time caring for them. The time-intensity of a care-taker role can be extreme because there is no time clock and helping someone can be endless when money is not tied to services. To save time and money, caretakers often forgo their own needs, and when it comes to prevention, this is the worse thing you can do.

Think of the pre-flight airline safety announcement. In case of emergency, if the oxygen mask drops down, you must place it on yourself before helping others. If you find that you are unable to have an annual health evaluation, to achieve minimal activity levels of 250 minutes weekly, or to eat a basic healthy diet, it is time to have some discussions with yourself and family on what you need to be a healthy person. It may be time to ask someone to help you or ask others to help themselves when possible. Some of my clients have been surprised by the encouragement they receive from family members when they ask for help.

How to start? Start with one thing, one action you will take to prevent health problems and go after it until you succeed. I encourage you, take good care of yourself.

By Kyla Bauer, Exercise Physiologist