Ask a woman to list her life’s priorities and chances are her personal needs, including her own health maintenance, will fall far down on the list. With husbands, children, parents and work responsibilities, most women tend to worry about them first!

But it’s a house of cards that would collapse in the face of your own illness or incapacity … all the more reason to sit down and give some thought to what you should do to care for your personal health.

May 13-19 is National Women’s Health Week, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health is reminding women that caring for yourself is the best way of ensuring the well-being of your loved ones. So here’s a basic framework for elevating personal health to the top of your long lists of priorities:

1. Pursue regular checkups and preventive screenings. All adult women should regularly check their weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They should have a Pap test at least every three years after age 21 to screen for cervical cancer. Yearly mammograms are recommended starting at age 40.
Beginning at age 50, women should be screened for colorectal cancer. Depending on your age and health history, your physician may also recommend screenings to test bone health, diabetes and reproductive health.

2. Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity can lower a woman’s risk of developing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon cancer, breast cancer and depression. Staying active also helps women maintain a healthy weight. The
HHS Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults exercise a minimum of three days per week and that they incorporate a combination of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.

3. Eat healthy. Diet is important to health. Make sure your diet is rich with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low fat dairy products, fish, lean meats and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Minimize your consumption of foods that contain saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium or added sugars. Any alcohol should be consumed in moderation.

4. Pay attention to mental health. Are you getting enough sleep? Do you feel your level of stress is manageable? It¹s important to be aware of your mental health status and to seek professional help for any issues that arise.

5. Embrace healthy behaviors. Smoking and tobacco use pose a serious risk of death and disease for women. It’s directly responsible for 80 percent of lung cancer deaths in women in the U.S. each year, according to the American Cancer Society. Additionally, smoking can lead to cancer, lung disease,
heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis.

Is there a woman in your life who should be taking better care of herself? If so, show them this article and be sure to tell them how important it is that they remain a healthy and vital addition to your world!