All Entries For women's health

Muscle Your Way to Stronger Bones

One of the most concerning physical changes that occurs in postmenopausal women is an accelerated loss in bone mineral density within the first several years after menopause.   The rate of postmenopausal bone loss can vary for each woman, and factors such as her bone mineral density prior to menopause, diet, exercise level and genetics all influence her rate of bone loss.

All types of exercise are great for your health, but to build strong bones, weight-bearing exercises like running, stair climbing, walking and strength training are increasingly shown to help prevent bone loss in postmenopausal women.
Recent studies have found that combining weight bearing exercises like walking or running or even jump roping with higher-intensity, lower-repetition strength training three times a week was more beneficial for bone mineral density (bone mineral density) than just doing the cardio exercise alone.

One of the key findings from bone mineral density research is that only the areas of the body that are loaded by the force of muscle movement are stimulated to rebuild and increase in bone mineral density.  For example, if you're a postmenopausal runner who doesn't do any upper body strength training, you may have bone loss in the bones of your upper body.  Just like the saying about tooth health and flossing, “only floss the teeth you want to save” you need to think about your whole skeletal system when developing an exercise program, and include exercises that'll target your entire body.

What helps maintain and even increase bone mineral density in postmenopausal women?  
Posted 10/31/2011  6:00:00 PM By: Cathy Cram : 11 comments   10,303 views
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Inspiring Woman: Triathlete and Two-Time Breast Cancer Survivor

Editor's Note (Nicole Nichols): I've had the pleasure of competing against Laurah Turner in multiple local races (and by "competing" I mean "watching her leave me in the dust"). I always found her athletic achievements admirable, her sheer speed enviable, and her personality contagious. Recently, I learned Laurah, an amazingly talented endurance athlete who appears to be the epitome of health and fitness, is a two-time breast cancer survivor—and she's only 29. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I asked Laurah to share her inspiring story of how breast cancer changed her and inspired both her career and her fitness goals.
I grew up a type A personally. I tended toward routine, was obnoxiously punctual and saw the entire world through Excel spreadsheets and lists. In fact, I was so married to my routines that I even developed the quickest and most efficient way to prepare the perfect pot of coffee. Every morning, I woke up and immediately dove for my coffee pot. I employed a specific set of procedures which resulted in the first bold, sweet, creamy sip of caffeinated heaven rushing over my palate within 3 minutes and 40 seconds, and never deviated from this ritual.
July 25, 2004 was no different than any other morning, but somehow during my distribution of  six leveled scoops of Folgers into the coffee filter, my fingertips found themselves palpating a large lump on my right breast instead of steadying  the canister of grounds as they usually would. Was it that? I didn’t have this lump yesterday.  Suddenly a wave of panic engulfed my body.  Had the lump been there yesterday? A week ago?
Posted 10/27/2011  6:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 48 comments   14,289 views
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From Dr. Birdie: What You Really Need to Know about Breast Cancer

For more than 25 years, October has been recognized as National Breast Cancer Awareness month. This is the time of year when the familiar pink ribbons and, in more recent years, pink in general becomes more prevalent in our communities and in the media. Why does breast cancer awareness get so much attention?

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in females worldwide.  In the United States, breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in women (after skin cancer) and is the #1 cause of death in women ages 40-59. In Hispanic women, it is the #1 cause of death from cancer.  What this means for you is that most of you either know someone directly or indirectly affected by this potentially life-threatening disease.  In fact, 1 in 6 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, according to government statistics.  In 2007 in the United States, there were 202,964 new cases diagnosed and 40,598 deaths related to the disease. (Editor's note: Some of you questioned Dr. Birdie's statistics, and she welcomes the debate. These statistics refer to cancer-related deaths, not diagnoses, and these numbers come directly from the CDC.)

The Importance of Early Detection

Before we learn about what you can do to protect yourself against breast cancer, I want to stress the importance of early detection.  How to prevent breast cancer will be the focus of many discussions regarding breast cancer this month, but despite your best intentions and lifestyle modifications, you or a loved one may still develop the disease.  

Many of the most significant risk factors for developing breast cancer are not in your control: family history, sex and age.  I want you to understand that if you have these risk factors you are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer but that the presence of risk factors will not predict if you will get breast cancer.   So, the best weapon that we have in this fight so far is early detection.  

Thanks to early detection, many women go on to live long lives.  Do monthly self-exams and get your screening mammograms.  Screening mammograms typically start at age 50, but some women may need to start earlier based on medical or family history. Please check with your physician by age 40 to determine your screening requirements, as it will be different for every woman. Early detection is crucial to survival. In my opinion, every discussion about breast cancer needs to start with this critical reminder. 

Now that we have some very important business out of the way (early detection, self-exams, mammograms!) we can discuss some of the risk factors from breast cancer and what you can do to modify your risk of developing the disease.
Posted 10/7/2011  10:00:00 AM By: Birdie Varnedore, M.D. : 37 comments   14,748 views
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How Strong Are Your Bones?

One of the most serious problems associated with menopause is the increased risk of bone loss as a result of hormonal shifts. This is the first of series of four blogs I'll be writing on bone health, and in this blog I'll cover information on osteoporosis risk factors and diagnostic measures for determining bone density.   

It's important for women to understand what their risk of osteoporosis is, and the ways they can reduce their chances of a bone fracture later in life.  Most women don't think about their bone strength the same way they think about muscle strength.  We can see our muscles become more defined with use or atrophied when an injury immobilizes a limb.  In contrast, our bones are hidden and we don't worry about their strength until a fracture from weak bone structure occurs.  Like our muscles, our bones are constantly being broken down and rebuilt.  The degree of building for both muscle and bone is dependent on several factors such as nutrition, stress/ stimuli effect (ie., how weight training stresses the muscles in a positive way that stimulates stronger rebuilding of tissue) and genetics.  

The breakdown and rebuilding of bone is a necessary part of keeping bone strong, but when either part of the process slows, bones can become weakened.   Bones are composed of a hard outer layer, called the cortical bone, and the inner, honeycombed like portion called the trabecular bone.  The outer portion provides the bone structure, but it's the inner portion that provides the majority of a bone's strength.   As we age, the ability of our bones to maintain mass and normal structure is reduced as bone starts to be reabsorbed faster than it can be laid down.  

The continued net loss can cause bones to lose their strength and increase the risk of fracture.  We all start losing bone mass after 30 years of age, but whether the bone loss leads to fracture risk depends on a variety of influences.  For example, a woman that starts out with thicker bones will not develop menopause related weakness as quickly as women who didn't get enough bone building nutrients in their formative bone-building years.   

After menopause there is an acceleration of bone loss, so it's important for women to get a baseline assessment of their bone mass when they reach menopause.  There are several tests used to measure bone mineral density (BMD), but the most accurate test is dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA).  It uses a very low level X-ray to detect bone mineral levels and can diagnose whether a person has osteopenia (a precursor to osteoporosis) or osteoporosis.   The earlier osteopenia or osteoporosis is diagnosed, the better your chances are of slowing bone loss through lifestyle changes and medication.  Many healthcare providers are suggesting that their female patients have the DEXA test done earlier than the prior guideline of 65 years, as by that age the degree of bone loss can be substantial.

Along with having a DEXA scan, you can see if you are at risk of bone weakness by determining whether you have risk factors associated with increased bone loss.  The following are risk factors that can be reduced with lifestyle changes:
Posted 9/21/2011  10:00:00 AM By: Cathy Cram : 22 comments   12,552 views
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Keep That Youthful Glow during Menopause and Beyond

Editor's Note: Cathy Cram, M.S., is the resident maternal fitness expert on our sister site, She writes a monthly series on menopause health and fitness.

One of the most visible changes you may notice during the menopausal period is the look of your skin.  What may start out as a subtle increase in fine lines and dryness can quickly accelerate as estrogen wanes to crepey, uneven texture and deep wrinkles.  Although the aging process plays a role in skin changes, the hormonal shifts of menopause hastens the appearance of pigmented and wrinkled skin, especially in women who smoke, eat a poor diet and are sedentary. The good news is you can improve the health and appearance of your skin by making some positive lifestyle changes and adding a few “silver bullets” to your skincare routine.
The leading causes of poor skin health are:
  • Smoking
  • Chronic alcohol use
  • Rollercoaster weight gain/loss
  • Poor diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Sun exposure
Posted 8/17/2011  10:00:00 AM By: Cathy Cram : 19 comments   32,841 views
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10 Reasons to Celebrate Menopause

Editor's Note: Cathy Cram, M.S., is the resident maternal fitness expert on our sister site, She writes a monthly series on menopause health and fitness.

My past menopause blogs have dealt with some of the less than pleasant changes that occur during and after menopause, so for this blog I want to cover some of the positive changes that come with this life change.   It's summertime, so it feels appropriate to lighten things up and look at things with a "glass half-full" attitude.
For most women, menopause not only results in freedom from monthly menstrual periods and birth control, but also coincides with major life changes.   Children are nearing adulthood or are already launched, and our relationships with spouse, partner and family begin to shift as the nurturing hormones wane.  
Your attitude about these changes can play a strong role in how well you navigate the rest of your life.   Shifting from being full-time mom to the parent of near adults can result in an identity crisis, but instead of spending precious time mourning this change, think instead of how much energy you'll now have to nurture your dreams.  After years of having your children's needs come first it can take time to adjust to having more time to yourself.  The quiet you may have dreamed about when in the thick of childrearing may feel disconcerting, but try to avoid filling the void too quickly.    Discomfort can be an effective catalyst for making positive life changes if you allow yourself time to sit with it, and think about what actions will provide long-term emotional sustenance.
For those of you who never had children (I'm in that group), menopause can cause you to mourn the loss of choice regarding parenthood.   On the other hand, you can close that door and open others that allow you to make your mark in the world and form meaningful, enriching relationships.   You have value and worth outside of reproduction, so don't let anyone make you feel less of a woman because you don't have children.  Think of the people in your life who had a positive influence on your development, such as aunts, teachers and mentors.   As the saying goes, "it takes a village" and your life experiences offer a perspective that can enrich  a child's life.
The years after menopause can be the most fulfilling of your life, as long as you continue to view yourself as a strong, vital person.   Maintaining a fitness routine will help immensely with your self-esteem, as will surrounding yourself with people who have a positive attitude.   If you don't have a strong circle of women friends, think about ways you can form new friendships or rekindle old ones.   The emotional and physical benefits of spending time with good friends becomes more important as you transition into midlife.
One consistent factor that researchers find when studying women and mental health is the power of female friendships.   I know in my life, my girlfriends have been a constant source of strength, laughter and comfort.   They've been with me through marriage, divorce, and a parade of dating debacles, always ready to shore me up when I'm down and gather the wagons during illness or other difficult times.   Within my group of friends, I know that I'll never lack for a simpatico ear to regale with my latest indignity of aging or mental acuity lapse.
I hope that as you head into the menopause years you'll strive to cultivate good friends, keep yourself fit and healthy and laugh every day.   In addition, if you have a bad day of hot flashes, read through this list--hopefully it'll help you keep it all in perspective!
Posted 7/13/2011  2:00:00 PM By: Cathy Cram : 58 comments   19,633 views
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Win the Battle of the 'Menopause Belly' Bulge

Editor's Note: Cathy Cram, M.S., is the resident maternal fitness expert on our sister site, She writes a monthly series on menopause health and fitness.

By Cathy Cram, M.S.

One of the first changes many postmenopausal women notice is a subtle shift in how fat is distributed on their bodies. Women who never had much belly fat see the beginnings of a pad of fat the front and sides of their abdomens, and women who have always had a bit of a tummy notice it's much more pronounced. This change in body fat storage after menopause is referred to as the "menopause belly."

My own experience with menopause belly started with tummy jiggle whenever I drove over a bumpy road as well as finding that my favorite jeans suddenly were harder to zip up. My abdomen wasn't the area where I normally stored fat (my arms provide that reservoir) so it was a perplexing new problem. I was curious about whether other postmenopausal women experienced the same situation, so I questioned my 50ish friends to see if they'd noticed any changes in the size of their waist. Nearly all of the women I asked lamented about the appearance of their "menopause belly." We all laughed about this new and unwelcome addition, but in reality our expanding waistlines became less funny when entire wardrobes no longer fit.

Posted 6/15/2011  6:00:58 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 29 comments   99,390 views
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Drug Treatments for Hot Flashes

Editor's Note: Cathy Cram, M.S., is the resident maternal fitness expert on our sister site, She blogs monthly on the topics of menopause, health and fitness.

By Cathy Cram, M.S.

This is the third blog in the series on menopause hot flash treatments. In this blog, weíll explore the medical treatments that can help reduce hot flashes, and the controversy surrounding one of the most effective treatments, hormone treatment (HT, also termed HRT for hormone replacement therapy).

Hormone Treatment
Hormone treatment for menopause has been around for decades and has been used to treat premenopausal women after hysterectomy with oophorectomy (removal of the uterus and ovaries, respectively). In those women, without hormone replacement, they would go into a surgical menopause and experience increased bone weakening. HT has also been used in the treatment of menopausal symptoms and is one of the most effective treatments for reducing hot flashes.

The usual HT prescribed to menopausal women who have their ovaries and uterus is a combination of some type of estrogen plus progestin (a synthetic form of progesterone). The progestin is added because estrogen by itself causes the uterine lining to thicken, and without progesterone initiating the sloughing off of the lining, thereís an increased risk of uterine cancer. Women who have had a hysterectomy donít need the additional progesterone and are given estrogen-only HT.

In 1993, the Womenís Health Initiative (WHI) was designed to determine the risks and benefits of treatments given to reduce heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and fractures in postmenopausal women. Among several sets of clinical trials within WHI was a study on the effect of HT on these diseases.
Posted 5/11/2011  5:33:54 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 21 comments   11,475 views
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Alternative Treatments for Hot Flashes

Editor's Note: Cathy Cram, M.S., is the resident maternal fitness expert on our sister site,

By Cathy Cram, M.S.

This second blog in a three-part series on treatments for menopausal hot flashes focuses on alternative options. This blog topic has been a challenging one to write, as alternative treatments donít provide a traditional model for applying clinical research results in order to determine how effective a treatment or drug is on a condition. As Iíll discuss later, there are several confounding issues that make it difficult to be able to present clear pros and cons for alternative treatments based on past studies.
Posted 4/13/2011  2:27:13 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 29 comments   14,623 views
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Hot Flashes: Diet, Exercise, and Lifestyle Tips

Editor's Note: Cathy Cram, M.S., is the resident maternal fitness expert on our sister site, Today's blog post is the second in a series on menopause health and fitness.

By Cathy Cram, M.S.

The responses from my first blog overwhelmingly mentioned hot flashes as one of the most difficult symptoms of menopause. With that in mind, Iíve spent the past week looking into the most recent research on hot flashes and treatments. Iíve come across so many treatments and lifestyle recommendations that Iíve decided to break the hot flash blog into three parts. Today Iím posting part one, which offers diet, exercise and lifestyle tips. Part two will cover alternative treatments (such as herbs and acupuncture) and part three will explore current medications prescribed for hot flashes, as well studies being done on new treatment options.

Posted 3/15/2011  2:25:58 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 62 comments   37,707 views
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NEW Series: Menopause Health and Fitness 101

Editor's Note: Cathy Cram, M.S., is the resident maternal fitness expert on our sister site, Today's blog post is the first in a series on menopause health and fitness.

By Cathy Cram, M.S.

Welcome to Menopause Health and Fitness 101!

As both an exercise physiologist and a woman over 50, Iím on this journey with you, so I hope together we make this time of life as vital and healthy as possible. My focus is to provide you with the latest research on all aspects of menopause, and together we can explore how to fine-tune your lifestyle to help you reach your fitness and optimal weight goals.

One of my biggest interests is in how exercise can affect the menopause transition both physically and emotionally. Iíve found that when talking with other menopausal women, thereís been a big shift in how they view themselves, and at times feelings of depression have developed because of the changes theyíre seeing in their bodies and personalities.

As a fitness professional, I know that regular exercise can improve mood, but for a long time I wondered if it could have the same effect during the roller-coaster period of menopause.

Posted 2/15/2011  2:08:47 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 108 comments   25,255 views
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Go Red for Women Tomorrow, Feb. 4!

What if I told you that heart disease kills more women than the next four causes of death, would that encourage you to change your lifestyle?

What if I told you heart disease takes the life of one woman every minute, would that encourage you to change your lifestyle?

What if I told you that 1 in 3 women die every year from heart disease compared to 1 in 30 who die from breast cancer, would that encourage you to change your lifestyle?

What If I told you 90 percent of us have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease, would that encourage you to change your lifestyle?

What if I told you 80% of cardiac events in women may be prevented, would that encourage you to change your lifestyle?

While these statistics provided by the American Heart Association are quite alarming, they are a reminder of the changes we can all make to reverse or at least slow down the progression of heart disease. Hope is not loss. And this is where the Go Red for Women campaign comes into play. The Go Red for Women campaign was designed to help educate women of the importance in making lifestyle changes now so that they may deter the staggering effects of heart disease later in life.

Posted 2/3/2011  11:10:48 AM By: Nancy Howard : 97 comments   17,241 views
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Choose You Commitment: Commit to Putting Yourself First

Heart disease remains the leading cause of mortality here in the United States with all cancers following a close second. For women, breast cancer ranks just behind skin cancer as the leading cause of cancer diagnosis. According to recent statistics released from the American Cancer Society, "in 2010 alone, an estimated 207,090 new cases of invasive breast cancer and about 40,230 deaths are expected to occur among women in the U.S."

Twenty-six years ago October was declared National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it still remains true today. And while researchers are working ardently to find a cure, women cannot forgo doing their share to help prevent and detect this disease by being an active participant in their health care needs.

Because of the alarming statistics regarding breast cancer, the American Cancer Society is stepping up to the plate with a new movement called the Choose You Commitment. This program is designed to encourage women to put their own health needs first so that they will be in a better position to help others.

According to a survey conducted by the American Cancer Society, "95% of women stated they needed to do more to improve their health; however 58% of the women surveyed stated they put their health needs behind others." This is why this program was initiated, so that women would be given the resources to take action.

Posted 10/23/2010  8:12:07 AM By: Nancy Howard : 43 comments   15,695 views
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New Study Uncovers a Surprising Health Risk for Pear-Shaped Women

You're probably familiar with the terms "apple" and "pear" when they apply to body shapes. People who are apple shaped tend to carry their extra weight in the abdomen region, but usually have relatively slim arms and legs. Men tend to be apple shaped, but many women are, too. Pear shaped individuals, by contrast, tend to carry fat in their lower body: hips, butt, and thighs.

Besides making our fat stores seem cuter by naming them after fruit (hehe), it's important to know which shape you are because it can help you determine your disease risk. It's has long been established that apple shapes are less health because excess fat storage around the abdomen is associated with a higher risk of heart disease. Pear shapes are often touted as less riskyóhealthy, evenóespecially when compared to abdominal fat storage.

I'm a pear shape and always figured that I wasn't at risk for health problems as a result. Even if I gained weight in the future, it would likely be in my hips and thighs. "No biggie," I thought. "Pear shapes are healthier, even when they're overweight." So I thought. I was really surprised when I read about a new study published in the July 14 issue of Journal of the American Geriatric Society that associated fat storage in the lower body with its own set of health risks.
Posted 9/3/2010  3:21:04 PM By: Nicole Nichols : 95 comments   28,236 views
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'Exercise Helped Me Beat Breast Cancer'

Editorís Note: When our staff recently reviewed some recent exercise guidelines for people with cancer, Beth, a SparkPeople employee and cancer survivor (pictured with her family, left), felt compelled to share her own story with our readers. This is what she wrote.

We all have certain dates that stick in our mind for reasons good or bad. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Holidays. Deaths. The day you got your job. The day you lost it.

Like many Americans, September 11 is one of those days for meóbut for more reasons than one.

On September 11, 1993, I married my wonderful husband (now married 17 years strong).

On September 11, 2001, the world watched in horror as suicide terrorists attacked the United States.

And on September 11, 2007, I learned I had breast cancer.
Posted 7/19/2010  6:17:37 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 97 comments   21,319 views
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