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Women's Health Archive


Can I outwalk breast cancer?

Updated August 1, 2020

Ask the doctors

Q. I've heard that walking could reduce my risk of breast cancer. Is this true?

A. Yes, it's true. Walking is not only a great form of exercise to help keep your heart healthy, it could potentially reduce your risk of breast cancer. One 2013 study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, found that women who walked seven hours a week — an hour a day on average — had a 14% lower chance of getting breast cancer when compared with women who walked three hours a week or less. The benefit was seen even in women who were at higher risk for breast cancer, including those who were overweight or who were taking hormone therapy. It's not clear how walking helps, but experts speculate that physical activity might help keep the body's levels of estrogen and insulin in check. Both of these hormones can fuel breast cancer, so regulating them more effectively could reduce your risk.

Gender differences in cardiovascular disease: Women are less likely to be prescribed certain heart medications

Updated October 15, 2020
Cardiovascular disease is the leading killer of both women and men in the US, but despite the significant impact it has on women, awareness and education for women's heart disease has historically been low. A recent meta-analysis found that women were significantly less likely to be prescribed common medications for CVD.

Can a daily pill lighten heavy menstrual bleeding caused by fibroids?

Updated July 13, 2020
Many women develop benign uterine fibroids, which may cause heavy menstrual bleeding, a problem that may be more severe among Black women. A new daily medication approved by the FDA may help some women by lightening blood loss during monthly periods.

When lockdown is not actually safer: Intimate partner violence during COVID-19

Published July 7, 2020

For women living with abusive partners, the COVID-19 pandemic has made an already difficult and dangerous situation even worse. And even if a woman had been thinking about leaving an abusive situation or planning to leave, with current restrictions she may not be able to.

Can a high-fiber diet reduce your risk of breast cancer?

Updated July 1, 2020

Research we're watching

Your diet may influence your breast cancer risk. An analysis of 20 studies by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which was published online April 6, 2020, by the journal Cancer, found that women who ate the most fiber were 8% less likely to go on to develop breast cancer compared with the women who ate the least.

The reduction in breast cancer risk was seen for both premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancers, as well as different types of breast cancer, including those that were estrogen and progesterone receptor–positive and estrogen and progesterone receptor–negative. Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said that that the reduction may be due to fiber's effect in reducing both blood sugar and estrogen levels in the body.

Is your habit getting out of control?

Updated July 1, 2020

Stress can raise your risk of developing a substance use disorder. Here's how to get help when you need it.

In recent months, Americans' collective stress level has risen in response to the pandemic and economic fallout. Many people are looking for ways to help themselves feel better. Unfortunately, stress can trigger a number of unhealthy coping strategies — drinking alcohol to excess, bingeing on junk food, engaging in drug use, or other harmful behaviors. If you've ever had a substance use disorder, a bout of significant stress may even put your recovery at risk.

This is likely due to the shift the human brain makes in times of trauma. Instead of focusing on long-term goals, your brain zeroes in on short-term objectives.

Are you old enough to give up your screening mammogram?

Updated July 1, 2020

There's no easy answer to this question. Rather, women should make the decision based on their individual needs.

Most women don't look forward to their routine mammogram, which can be uncomfortable and stressful. You may wonder: Is there an age when can you dispense with this regular chore? 75, 80, 85?

The truth is that experts haven't determined a magic age when women no longer need breast cancer screening — largely because scientific evidence in this area is lacking, says Dr. Kathryn Rexrode, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Division of Women's Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital. But many experts also agree that continuing mammography might not be the right choice beyond age 75. The real question, they say, is what is the right age for you to stop based on your individual needs? To decide, you need to understand both the potential risks and benefits of breast cancer screening.

The muscle-bone connection

Published June 25, 2020

Exercise affects your muscles and bones in similar ways. When you work out regularly, your muscles get bigger and stronger. By contrast, if you sit around doing nothing, they get smaller and weaker. The same principle holds true for bones, although the changes are less noticeable.

Not only do muscles and bones both respond to exercise, but the changes in both of them happen in tandem. That’s because muscles and bones work together to make your body move—and for maximum efficiency, muscle and bone strength need to be bal­anced. Consider what would happen if this balance didn’t exist. At one extreme, a weak muscle wouldn’t be able to move a big, strong bone. At the opposite end of the spec­trum, if a muscle were much stron­ger than a bone, it would snap it.

In search of sleep

Updated June 1, 2020

Many women making the transition to menopause have trouble sleeping. Several strategies can help you get the rest you need.

If you're a woman of a certain age and you often find yourself staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, you're not alone. The years leading up to menopause and the period that immediately follows are the times that women are most likely to report problems sleeping, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Many different conditions that are common in this stage of life — including hot flashes, obstructive sleep apnea, and mood disorders such as depression or anxiety — can cause sleep problems.

Lack of sleep is more than just a nuisance. "We now understand that high-quality sleep is absolutely vital to good health," says Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, the Michael and Lee Bell Professor of Women's Health at Harvard Medical School. This means that seeking care should be a priority if you are experiencing problems.

Can certain exercises worsen my pelvic organ prolapse?

Updated June 1, 2020

Ask the doctors

Q. I have pelvic organ prolapse and I want to start working out. Are there exercises I should avoid?

A. Pelvic organ prolapse is a common problem, caused by a weakening of the bowl-shaped group of muscles and tissues that supports your pelvic organs. As this support fails, one or more of these organs — such as the uterus, bladder, or rectum — can shift out of place, typically pushing into (and sometimes protruding out of) the vagina.

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