May 13 – 19, 2018 Is National Women's Health Week

Gender equality is a health issue, studies show.

Three senior women exercising together

Each year, beginning on Mother's Day, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sponsors National Women's Health Week, a time to empower women to make their health a priority.

This year, many people are thinking more about the well-being of women in America. The Women's Marches on Washington and elsewhere drew millions to speak out for women's causes. For their "Person of the Year," TIME Magazine chose the women of the #MeToo movement, who spoke out against sexual harassment on the job. There's a growing realization that women's rights are closely related to the health of women. Here are a few examples:

Heart health

According to the North American Menopause Society, a history of experiencing sexual harassment is one of the traumatic events that can have a negative effect on a woman's blood vessels and heart. Said lead author Dr. Rebecca Thurston of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, "Given the large percentage of postmenopausal women affected by heart disease, this is an important study that should remind healthcare providers of the need to thoroughly discuss a woman's history beyond simply asking about her physical health."

Brain health

In 2017, researchers from Columbia University noted that in some but not all countries, men retain their memory health longer than women. Ursula Staudinger, Ph.D., who is the director of the Columbia Aging Center, said, "This observation triggered our curiosity to try to understand what could cause such variations across countries."

The research team found that gender equality was a big factor. Lead author Eric Bonsang, Ph.D., noted, "It shows that women living in gender-equal countries have better cognitive test scores later in life than women living in gender-unequal societies. Moreover, in countries that became more gender-equal over time, women's cognitive performance improved relative to men's."

Why would this be? We know that stress and a lack of access to health resources and health care have an impact on brain health. The Columbia team also noted that women who live in a society that undervalues women are less likely to have received much formal education—which is a known factor for cognitive health in our later years.

Caregiving and health

Another women's health issue is something that many of our readers are well-familiar with: the impact of caregiving on the health of women. Though more men these days are staying home with children or providing care for older and disabled loved ones, women still provide most of the care, and are most affected both in their health and financial security.

A recent study from the Transamerica Institute showed that few people really stop to consider what they're taking on when they begin providing care for a senior relative. Women can find themselves in a cycle: Earning less than their partner, they often are the ones to take off time to care for children. This affects their earning power even more, so when an elderly loved one needs care—their own parents, or their in-laws, or even their spouse—they will often be the one to cut back on their work or quit entirely.

This pattern means that many women enter their retirement years with substantially lower savings, including money that would go toward their health care. Further endangering their health, these women may be more prone to social isolation and depression. It's important for families to consider these factors as they create a caregiving plan for an elderly or disabled loved one.

It's an exciting time to be a woman in America! Learn how to protect your health into your senior years.

Learn More

Visit the website to learn more about National Women's Health Week, and to find decade-by-decade recommendations for health services and lifestyle choices to keep women as healthy as possible.

Source: Kentuckiana Regional Planning & Development Agency (KIPDA) in association with IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2017 IlluminAge