In honor of National Women's Health Week May 13-19, Women’s Health Magazine published the following essay by First Lady Michelle Obama on why we all need to stand up for our well-being.
As women, we're used to hearing about fitness in terms of inches and dress sizes. We may know better, but we're up against near-constant reminders and pressures to look good and take shortcuts to get there.
The truth is, being a healthy woman isn't about getting on a scale or measuring your waistline — and we can't afford to think that way. Instead, we need to start focusing on what matters — on how we feel, and how we feel about ourselves.
For me, improving my health started with an eye-opening conversation I had with our family pediatrician when my girls were very young. He asked me, simply, “What are you all eating?” And as I answered his question, I realized our family needed to make some changes — and so we did. We started eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water, watching our portions, and eating less takeout.
I also changed my mindset. I started thinking about exercise as an investment in myself instead of a chore, and I started focusing on the example I wanted to set for my girls. My schedule was dominated by career and kids – not to mention a very busy husband – but thinking about exercise this way made it a priority, even if I had to get up earlier to do it.
That's what being fit meant to me: feeling good inside and out, and taking control of my health.
Now, I try to work out most mornings with cardio and weights. I also add yoga into my routine when I can, because as I get older I know it's essential for my flexibility and mobility. I want to be as healthy at 75 as I am now – so I keep on setting, and pushing myself toward, new goals.
I also make sure I get routine physicals and screenings, which are crucial parts of every woman's health care. Unlike diet and exercise, however, women's preventive screenings don't often get the attention they deserve. But studies show that staying up to date on preventive health care can help women avoid conditions like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
It used to be that even many women with health insurance would skip these check-ups because of the cost. In fact, before the health reform law that my husband signed back in 2010, some insurance companies would routinely charge women 50 percent more than men for the
same coverage because they needed more frequent access to preventive services like mammograms and cervical screenings. Fortunately, the new health care bill makes that discrimination against women illegal starting in 2014, and today, insurance companies are required to cover life-saving cancer screenings and other preventive services like contraception and immunizations without a co-pay.
So, here's the bottom line for us women: No more excuses. Today, we're more empowered than ever before to take control of our lives and our health. Whether it's pushing ourselves a little harder at the gym, calling our doctors to make sure we're up to date on our screenings, or reminding our girlfriends that they can access these preventive health care services without a co-pay – we can all truly make a difference, not just for ourselves, but for our mothers and daughters, our grandmothers and granddaughters, and all the women in our lives who we love.
Photo: Michelle Obama