Here at Byrdie HQ, our health—mental, sexual, reproductive, and the like—is always top of mind. That said, women’s health has historically been a topic either buried in controversy or ignored altogether. So, this year, we’re taking Women’s Health Week as an opportunity to serve up helpful information, product recommendations, and science-backed tips to better understand the inner-workings of our bodies. Find anything from what to eat when you have your period to exactly what happens when you take the morning after pill (and much, much more).
Being in the driver's seat of your life begins with taking control of your health. As women, it's especially important that we become our own advocates and play an active role in our health—be it scheduling regular appointments with health professionals, feeling empowered to speak up and ask questions, or instilling healthful habits in our day-to-day lives. Health is a lifelong journey. The choices we make today are what determine the foundation for our future selves—and it's never too late to turn things around.
For Women's Health Week, we're spotlighting specific steps you can take to ensure you're on the road to good health (and that you're the one behind the steering wheel). We sought out actionable health advice from doctors and a nurse in a variety of specialties. Below, these experts outline all the ways we, as women, can take control of our health today. Here's what they said.
Take charge of your heart health.
"There's a myth that only women over 50 need to worry about their heart health," notes surgeon C. Tiko-Okoye, MD MPH. In reality, cardiovascular disease is the third-leading cause of death for women ages 20 to 44, and the second-leading cause of death for women ages 45 to 64.
"It's incredibly important to be your own health advocate," reminds Tiko-Okoye. "No matter how old you are, it is never too late to take charge of your heart health." For those in their 20s and 30s, she recommends setting a precedent for healthy habits with a number of proactive steps. These include exercising regularly, committing to a heart-healthy diet, knowing your numbers (including blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and BMI), limiting your alcohol intake to one drink per day, and quitting smoking or avoiding secondhand smoke exposure.
Start the conversation about contraception.
"Contraception, or birth control, is an integral component of women’s health care, and an annual well-woman visit is a great time to discuss it," says ob-gyn Divyah Nagendra, MD. "Your provider should bring it up, but if they don’t, you can." Confidence is key when taking control of your health, and choosing the right health care providers can help. "Feel empowered to find a provider you feel comfortable having a conversation about birth control with!"
Nagendra notes that what people often forget is that birth control’s reach extends far beyond pregnancy prevention. "It can also be used to reduce cramps, to regulate or lighten your menstrual period, to decrease the risk of endometrial or ovarian cancer, or to even help with acne," she lists. "Just remember there are so many types of birth control, but it’s not a one size fits all—so start the conversation!"
Get proactive about preventing photo-aging.
When it comes to taking care of your skin, board-certified dermatologist Ainah Tan, MD, FAAD emphasizes the importance of preventing photo-aging. “Photo-aging is damage to the skin due to sun exposure over time, regardless of the weather—cloudy, cold, rainy,” explains Tan. “Cumulative sun damage leads to wrinkling, broken blood vessels, brown spots, pre-cancerous, and even cancerous skin lesions. Prevention is key and includes the use of sunscreen, protective clothing, and avoidance of sun at peak hours—10am to 4pm." When you're choosing your sunscreen, pay attention to the ingredient list. "The most protective sunscreens contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide,” notes Tan.
While preventing photo-aging is ideal, it’s possible to address and ameliorate even after the damage has been done. “Once photo-aging has occurred, there are many antioxidants, topical medications, and procedures that can help reverse the damage,” Tan explains. “One thing that I almost always recommend is the use of retinoids, a prescription anti-aging product. Nightly use of retinoids can lead to healthier skin and the reduction of fine lines. Additionally, skin growth factors can help boost collagen production as well as decrease fine lines."
Keep your eyes clean.
In our 20s and 30s, we don't often consider eye health as part of our wellness regimen, but taking the right precautions today can help our vision down the road. "If there is one thing I can advise to keep your eyes healthy, it's to never sleep with your contact lenses in," warns ophthalmologist and glaucoma specialist Elaine Wang, MD. "That’s a setup for eye infection, which can leave scars and cause permanent damage to your eyesight." If you're getting laser eye surgery, Wang notes to "be sure to use adequate artificial tears to prevent from dry eyes—a possible side effect from refractive surgery."
If you have sensitive or dry eyes, a simple daily regimen may help improve symptoms of tearing, foreign body sensation, and scratchiness. Wang suggests "using baby shampoo to scrub the eyelid margin and lashes after taking off eye makeup" and using warm compresses to improve the flow of natural oils that reside inside your eyelids, making your eye feel more comfortable. Another way she suggests improving eye health is to make sure your diet is rich in omega-3s or you're supplementing with fish oils.
Make time for self-care.
“The best thing you can do for yourself is to take care of your body and mind every single day,” says Jenna Schultz, BSN, RN. “Nourish yourself with food and hydration, strengthen with physical activity, free yourself with meditation and reflection, and recover with sleep and relaxation. Self-care is the ultimate way to engage in preventive care, leading you to optimal wellness—and to be the best version of yourself for both you and for others.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Leading causes of death—females—all races and origins—United States, 2017. Updated June 21, 2021.