Women's Health and Fitness

Daily exercise and a healthy diet don’t guarantee perfect health, but they provide a fine start. You also want to manage stress, quit smoking, wear sunscreen, and visit your doctor for regular checkups.

Sure, men need to do the same, but women must tailor their health regimen to many other issues. More women than men die of cardiovascular disease each year. Women experience menopause and a greater risk of osteoporosis. Women seek more cosmetic procedures than do men, and mental health also differs between the sexes, with women more likely to be treated for depression.


Half of all women over 50 will experience an osteoporosis-related fracture. Yet eating wisely and exercising regularly can curb the advanced effects of bone loss in most women, reports Jean Lawrence of WebMD.com. The popular Web site suggests that diet is a woman’s best defense: Certain foods help maximize bone mass and boost bone density at any age. What you need more than anything is calcium — about 1,200 milligrams a day — in addition to at least 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise a day. Here are some tips to fill the bill:

DRINK MILK and eat yogurt or cheese. An 8-ounce cup of skim, low fat, or whole milk has 300 milligrams. A cup of yogurt or 1 ounce of Swiss cheese each offer about the same amount as a cup of milk. Lactose-free products have no effect on calcium content.

GO VEGGIE. Half a cup of Chinese cabbage has as much calcium as an 8-ounce glass of milk, and one cup of turnip greens offers 200 milligrams. Soy foods also provide a great source. Half a cup of tofu contains 258 milligrams of calcium, as well as plant-based chemicals called isoflavones, which also strengthen bone density.

TRY FOODS FORTIFIED with calcium, especially certain breakfast foods (orange juice has up to 240 milligrams of calcium, and fortified cereals deliver up to 1,000 milligrams per cup).

ADD SUPPLEMENTS if you consume too little calcium in your diet. To maximize absorption of supplements, take no more than 500 milligrams at one time. Most supplements should be taken with meals.

ORDER THE SALMON. In addition to calcium, salmon and other fatty fish offer vitamin D, which aids calcium absorption. Likewise, fish oil supplements have been shown to reduce bone loss in elderly women and may prevent osteoporosis.

GO NUTS! Almonds, pistachios, and sunflower seeds are high in calcium. Walnuts and flaxseeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Peanuts and almonds contain potassium, which helps prevent calcium loss in urine. Steer clear of salt; the less you take in, the more calcium you will retain.


Noninvasive procedures such as laser resurfacing, chemical peels, and injectable fillers (Botox, Restylane, and Juvederm) have become the most popular treatments to erase facial and neck wrinkles and lines. Dr. Kenneth Jesser, a board-certified vein specialist in Palm Desert, also touts elos, a procedure to reduce wrinkles and fine lines; tighten and smooth skin; and eliminate blemishes, such as red areas caused by rosacea.

The Morrow Institute in Rancho Mirage offers physician-directed Ultimate Skin Rejuvenation, which uses prescription and cosmeceutical products, laser treatment, intense pulse light, and peels to restore skin health and beauty. Morrow also offers Skin RxSource, which uses homeopathic nutrients and essential oils, topical antioxidants, and alpha hydroxy acids.
* FOR HELP SELECTING board-certified specialists in plastic surgery, dermatology, otolaryngology, or ophthalmology: www.abms.org. For information about board-certified cosmetic surgeons: americanboardcosmeticsurgery.org. For the status of a California doctor’s license: www.medbd.ca.gov.


The best defense, any doctor will tell you, is early detection — which means regular mammograms for women 40 years and older. Schedule that mammogram — a low-dose X-ray that helps detect and diagnose the disease — the week following your period, because your breasts tend to be most sensitive and tender during this time, says Dr. Laura Lee, medical director of the Comprehensive Breast Center at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs.

Diagnosis becomes complicated when the tumor is small or if the breast tissue is inconsistent. But new technology called molecular breast imaging appears to detect some tumors that were previously unseen, The New York Times has reported. With this technique, small breast cancers absorb a type of radioactive molecule that a special camera can detect. Molecular breast imaging has been used successfully in screening studies to detect unsuspected small tumors, which in some cases had been missed by mammography.

Cancer survivors who fear recurrence can take some comfort in the increasing survival rates enabled by mammography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, and computed tomography (CT) screenings. “Thanks to a number of new drugs and advancements in treatment therapies, women can live long and productive lives even after recurrence,” Lee says.

Treatment for recurrent breast cancer may include a mastectomy, lumpectomy, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy. Dr. Lee notes that the Comprehensive Breast Center in Palm Springs has recently added digital Hologics mammography, as well as the SomoVu, a 3-D ultrasound technology, and MRI-guided breast biopsy.


Clinical research continues and offers fresh perspectives on detection and treatment:

* Gene expression analysis has identified five subtypes of breast cancer with distinct biological features, clinical outcomes, and responses to chemotherapy. This should allow researchers to develop individualized treatment strategies based on tumor characteristics.

* Response to chemotherapy is influenced not only by the tumor’s genetic characteristics, but also by inherited variation in genes that affect a person’s ability to absorb, metabolize, and eliminate drugs. This should allow doctors to predict tumor response to — and the likelihood of adverse effects from — individual chemotherapy drugs. It should also instigate more effective and less toxic motherapeutic agents.


* Get a mammogram every year starting at age 40. There are resources in the desert to assist uninsured women who cannot pay for the screening.

* Seek a clinical breast exam as part of your periodic health exam.

* Know how your breasts feel normally, and promptly report any change to your doctor. The breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s.

* Get an MRI and a mammogram every year if you are at high risk. If you are at moderate risk, talk to your doctor about the benefits and limitations of adding MRI screening to your yearly mammogram.

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