The Women of the Oscars

As is the case every year, last night’s Academy Awards celebrated the abundance of talent that we saw in film over the course of 2013. One of the most memorable moments was when best actress winner Cate Blanchett pointed out in her acceptance speech that her win should mean something to the people “in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the centre are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them, and in fact, they earn money.”

Judi Dench, Age 79 (eonline)

There’s a misconception somewhere in Hollywood, or with Boards of Directors, or in society at large, that audiences don’t want to see female-driven films. There’s a further and equally damaging misconception that there is no substantive room for women in Hollywood after they ‘expire’ after age 39. That four of the five best actress nominees last night were over the age of 40 demonstrates the depth of this falsity, especially in conjunction with the fact that Blanchett’s Blue Jasmine was entirely driven by its female lead.

Sandra Bullock, Age 49 (People.com)

As exciting as the Academy Awards are, what does any of this have to do with women’s health? A lot, actually. So much of what we perceive as normal is influenced by the media. As much as we want to believe the media doesn’t manage our expectations, there is always a certain extent to which it will. The problem here is that when 35 year old women are presented as old, how are we supposed to perceive the changes that come with age as normal? Hollywood’s typical ‘mother-of-the-bride’ is younger than you were when you took your kids to their first day of school, and this is inevitably going to make you question why you have a couple of wrinkles and your boobs don’t hit your chin.

Cate Blanchett, Age 44 (People.com)

What was so significant about this year’s Academy Awards were the number of women over 40 who were represented and celebrated for their meaningful work. These are beautiful, accomplished women whose success is representative of the importance of women in general, and of the fact that audiences don’t want to see women’s careers hit a ‘glass ceiling’ when they turn 40. We want to see women’s entire lives portrayed on screen, not just their reproductive years! That Hollywood is beginning to embrace roles for ‘older women’ (I am reluctant to describe a 44 year old woman as older without
quotation marks) is a step towards all women accepting the changes that come
with age.

Meryl Streep, Age 64(Huffington Post)

 

 

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Tips for Reducing Your Risk of Heart Disease

Heart disease is considered to be largely preventable. Below are 10 simple tips for reducing your risk of heart disease:

1.Take 10,000 steps a day. Use a pedometer and gradually increase the number of steps you take each day. Exercise fights heart disease in numerous ways: it lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, improves circulation, reduces stress and strengthens the heart.

2. Get another hour sleep. A recent Sleep in America poll reported that less than half of adults are getting adequate sleep (7-8hrs). Lack so sleep can raise blood pressure, trigger inflammation, and promote atherosclerosis. Getting 6 hours of sleep or less per night has been found to increase risk of heart disease in women, independent of other risk factors (such as smoking).

3. Eat more fish and garlic and drink green tea. These foods contain various compounds that support heart health. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish can help reduce triglycerides and inflammation and prevent clotting. Garlic and green tea contain powerful antioxidants that can improve several aspects of heart health. Consider supplements of garlic and fish oil to complement your diet.

4. Choose whole grains over refined products. Studies show that highly refined carbohydrates that have a high glycemic index, such as white bread, are worse for your heart than foods high in saturated fat, like red meat and butter. Whole grains contain more fiber and are digested more slowly. Try oatmeal and chia seed for breakfast; soluble fiber in oats and chia can help lower cholesterol levels and support weight management. Swap potato chips in favour of tortilla chips. Tortilla chips have more fibre and less fat and if you choose ones that are fortified with extra fiber (flax, chia, bean flour), they can actually help lower your LDL cholesterol. Dip your tortilla chips in fresh salsa. The lycopene in tomatoes can help lower blood pressure.

5. Eat more brightly coloured vegetables and fruits. The antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre can support the health of your blood vessels, improve circulation, help reduce cholesterol and reduce free radical damage. Canada’s food guide recommends 7-10 servings for adults (based on age and gender) yet according to a recent survey by Statistics Canada only 40% of Canadians are consuming five or more servings daily. If your diet falls short, take a multivitamin/mineral complex to ensure you are getting all essential nutrients.

6. Make better fat choices. Cook with palm fruit oil rather than olive oil. Olive oil is great to use in salad dressings or add to foods after it is cooked, but it is not heat stable and its beneficial properties are lost when it is heated to high temperatures. Palm fruit oil is heat stable and contains potent antioxidants called tocotrienols that are good for the heart and the brain. NIH-funded research show tocotrienols found in palm fruit oil may reduce damaging effects of stroke and it can have a positive effect on cholesterol levels. Tocotrienols from palm fruit oil are also available in supplement form.

(A note from femMED: when buying palm oil, make sure you check the label to make sure that it is sustainably farmed).

7. Stress less. Stress is a powerful risk factor for heart disease. Stress impacts several risk factors for heart disease: it raises blood pressure and cholesterol, triggers inflammation and promotes blood clots. Stress can also hamper immune function, and cause insomnia, headaches and weight gain. To better manage stress, try deep breathing, meditation, yoga and get regular exercise.

8. Laugh more and be optimistic. Laughing relaxes and expands blood vessels, which helps protect the heart. Research conducted in over 97,000 women has found that optimists have lower rates of heart disease than those who are negative and pessimistic. Negative emotions such as anger, hostility, worry and pessimism are associated with increased risk of heart disease, whereas the opposite trails are protective.

9. Floss your teeth daily. Poor oral hygiene not only affects your breath and appearance but it can lead to bone loss and increased risk of heart disease. Brush after meals and floss daily. This only takes a few minutes and is vital for your health. If you are out and can’t brush, use a toothpick to loosen food stuck between teeth and rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash. Chew sugarless gum sweetened with xylitol.

10. See you doctor and know your numbers. There are often no obvious symptoms of high cholesterol or elevated blood pressure until the conditions are advanced, and so it is important to keep on top of the heart disease symptoms in women. Delaying treatment can increase your risk of serious consequences. Have a regular check-up with your doctor and discuss your results. Know your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar numbers. Keep a health record at home.

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What You’ve Heard about Heart Disease: What’s Fact and What’s Fiction?

February is National Heart Health Month so this is the perfect time to talk about what women can do to protect themselves against their number one health threat. That’s right…heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in North America.  One in three women in their lifetime will develop heart disease, but sadly the odds are approaching one in two. Every minute a woman dies of heart disease. This could be you, your mother, your sister, or your friend. Cardiovascular disease in women has been understudied, under-diagnosed and largely ignored by both women and their doctors. There are many myths and misconceptions that prevail about heart disease in women. Here are just a few:

Myth:
Heart disease is only an issue for elderly women.
Fact: While heart disease is the chief killer of women over the age of 65, it is also the second-leading cause of death in women ages 45 to 64 and the third-leading cause of death in women 25 to 44.

Myth: Women are more likely to survive a heart attack than men.
Fact: Women are twice as likely as men to die after suffering a heart attack. The unfortunate reality is that women delay getting treatment, are treated less aggressively after a heart attack and are less likely to be given life-saving medications or referrals to
cardiologists.

 

Myth: Risk factors for heart disease are the same in women as in men.
Fact: Certain conditions are more likely to cause heart disease in women than in men, such as metabolic syndrome and menopause. Stress and lack of sleep also appear more likely to damage women’s hearts.

Myth: Sex increases the risk of heart attack.
Fact: It is commonly thought that sex is a major trigger for heart attacks, yet only one percent of heart attacks are brought on by sexual activity.

Myth:
Hormone replacement therapy protects against heart disease.
Fact: Menopausal women who take estrogen replacement therapy actually may be at increased risk for heart disease.

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Stress: It’s a Matter of the Heart

You might be surprised to learn that heart disease is the number one killer of women in North America. Part of this can probably be attributed to the fact that it’s hard to know when our hearts aren’t healthy because we cannot see them. When we’ve gained too much weight we see it in our thighs. We are reminded to check our breasts by the fact that we see them every day. But our hearts? Often we forget to take proper care of them because they’re out of sight and out of mind.

Given the dangers of heart disease, women have to get a handle on what can cause it, and how to help keep these causes at bay. Heart disease is caused by a number of factors, many of which we cannot control. One of these factors is the accumulation of stress that comes with everyday life. While we can’t necessarily control all the stressors in our lives (financial problems, horrible bosses, teenagers), we do have a certain amount of control over how we let them affect us and by extension, our heart health.  Learning to manage stress is key if you’re wondering how to prevent heart disease in women.

We are all affected by stress in different ways, and we all cope differently with stress. What works for you might not work for your best friend; I think yoga is probably the most boring thing in the world, but many of my friends have had it change their lives. I put together a list of tips that have been known to help people manage their stress. Using some of these techniques can help you control how much you’re affected by the stress in your life and could help keep your heart healthy (and sanity in check)!

Don’t Overindulge in Food and Alcohol: Don’t deal with stress by turning to food and alcohol. Over eating, under eating, and excessive alcohol consumption only band-aid the bigger problem. Coping by using food and alcohol will only lead to additional issues on top of the primary stressor.

Say No: Many women take on more than they can handle. Even women who work the same hours as their husbands have been shown to contribute more than 70% to the household duties. Adding kids’ schedules into the mix, as well as the expectations of friends and extended family can lead anyone to a nervous breakdown. Go through your commitments to distinguish between the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘musts.’ Cut down what’s on your plate so you can deal with your obligations properly without going insane.

Stop Smoking: Beyond the obvious impacts lighting up has on your health, the nicotine in cigarettes works as a stimulant that directly induces symptoms of stress.

Exercise Regularly: Regular exercise has direct links to maintaining a healthy heart, but it is the endorphins it releases that combat stress. They make you feel better immediately, and help you maintain a positive attitude. If you hate the elliptical, look for other ways to get exercise. Join an amateur soccer or basketball league in your neighborhood (most places have one), or sign up for a dance class or running group.

Evaluate: Figure out what it is in your life that is causing you stress, and then accept those things that you cannot control. Distinguishing between problems that are in and out of your hands helps you determine what’s really worth worrying about. Be realistic and flexible about issues that are beyond your control, and have a plan for what to do if things don’t go your way. Most of the time, these things aren’t the end of the world.

Get Sufficient Sleep: Many people can’t sleep because they’re stressed, and many people are stressed because they can’t sleep. Make sure that you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep a night. Make sure your bedroom is dark and comfortable, and use your bed for nothing but sleep and sex. Get the TV out of the bedroom, and avoid screen-time an hour before bed. If you consistently have trouble sleeping, try femMED Sleep as a sleep-aid. However you make it happen, make sure you give your body enough time to recharge!

Make the Cut: Avoid people in your life who stress you out. Obviously your mother-in-law is here to stay, but the ‘frenemies’ who do more harm than good aren’t worth sacrificing your health for.

In the same line of thinking, avoid topics of conversation that cause you stress. If religion or politics get you riled up, avoid the topic, or at least put it aside until your head is in the right place.

Incorporate Music: Many people find listening to music a good way to relax and escape from the pressures of stress. Whether you listen to music directly made to combat stress, such as nature sounds, or Beyoncé is more your thing, take time to let it calm you down next time you’re stuck in traffic or getting ready for a meeting that you’re anxious about attending.

Yoga/Meditation: Yoga and meditation help people check out from the fast-pace of everyday life. Taking the time to relax and appreciate your body and mind can for some people alleviate stress entirely. Make sure you go to at least five classes before deciding whether or not this is for you, as it is a practice that takes a bit of getting used to.

Get a pet: People who own pets are consistently shown to exhibit fewer signs of stress, and fewer health problems in general. Pets serve as great companions, and can calm your nerves at the worst of times. If you don’t have the time or money for a dog or cat, visit a friend who has one for a quick fix of puppy love!

Do Volunteer Work: Evidence shows that people who help others are more adept at coping with stressors. Helping people who are worse off than yourself will help you put your problems into perspective, and will also leave you feeling good about yourself.

Take a Vitamin: Make sure that you’re getting enough nutrients, especially vitamin B. Vitamin B is the master of the nervous system, and taking a supplement can help calm your nerves.

Get Lucky: Sex has been proven to reduce stress and stress symptoms. On top of that, it can be great exercise and can help you sleep (thus covering two other things from this list)!

Make Work More Comfortable: If you spend a lot of time at the office and your job causes you stress, try and bring some comforts into your work environment. Bring a picture of your family and your favourite mug from home. Scents such as basil and chamomile are all soothing. Keep a jar of some of these oils in a drawer to breathe in if you’re feeling overwhelmed. These sound trivial, but it’s the little things that help!

Give Yourself a Break: Everyone has commitments that stop them from taking care of themselves. If you have a huge project at work and don’t have time to make it to the gym or cook a good meal once in a while, that’s ok. During this time, make sure you’re treating yourself properly. Get up every half an hour and take a five minute walk. If your husband is driving you insane, book a dinner with your girlfriends to unwind. When your kids are causing you headaches, ask someone to look after them for the weekend and try and spend the weekend away. You can’t take care of all these things in your life if you don’t take care of yourself.

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Eggs: Are They All They’re Cracked Up to Be?

Over the years, eggs have developed a bad rap. Some people had gone so far as to suggest that eggs should be removed completely from your diet because they are loaded with a dangerous amount of cholesterol even for a healthy heart. With new
scientific discoveries though, eggs are making a comeback. In fact, they seem
to have done a full 180 and are now being touted for all their health benefits.

While it is true that egg yolks contain cholesterol and may weakly affect blood cholesterol levels, it turns out they also contain nutrients that help lower the risk of
heart disease.

Eggs Contain:

Vitamin B12 Vitamin B12 has been shown to help protect against
heart disease.
Choline This nutrient plays an important function for the
nervous system, helping to control memory and muscle support.
Vitamin D Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, which a lot of
North Americans lack in the winter.
Protein Eggs are a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids. Protein plays an essential role in building, maintaining, and replacing tissues in the body.

Over the years, eggs were ‘rumoured’ to be bad for the heart because they contain cholesterol. Recent research indicates, however, that blood cholesterol levels are more influenced by the saturated and trans-fats we eat rather than by the cholesterol in foods. This means that our bodies are not absorbing the cholesterol from foods at a rate even close to the extent that was thought in the past. On top of this, eggs contain Vitamin B12, which is one of the vitamins for heart health. This is a great natural supplement if you’re wondering how to prevent heart disease in women or men!

How much cholesterol do we need?
The recommended daily cholesterol intake for a healthy person is not more than 300 milligrams per day.  In healthy people, an egg a day will not increase the risk of heart disease and can be part of a healthy diet. Women with heart disease should limit dietary cholesterol to less than 200 mg per day, but you can still have eggs up to 3 times per week.

One egg contains:

  • 185mg of cholesterol, all of which is found in the
    yolk
  •  5 grams of fat, most of which is the ‘good’ unsaturated fat and there is no trans-fat
  • 6 grams of protein

So what are your options if you suffer from heart disease and/or are trying to limit your eggs?
Have an omelet with one egg yolk and 3 egg whites. Egg whites are pure protein! You can add as many vegetables as you like.
Eggs are filling, inexpensive and easy to prepare, so start incorporating them into your diet!

By the way…What’s the difference between white eggs and brown eggs?
As it turns out, not a whole lot! Brown eggs come from brown hens, and white eggs come from white hens!

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