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Women's Health : Be CEO of Your Own Health

Heart of a Woman Brunch speaker Joan Lunden took an informal poll of the 700 women in her Wichita Falls audience.

She asked how many of the women knew the numbers that represented their blood pressure, cholesterol, resting heart rate and other vital information about their bodies.

She was aghast when only 10 women raised their hands.

"You need to know your numbers!" she said. "You need to know what they mean and what's normal."

Lunden, famous for her nearly 20 years as a co-host of ABC's "Good Morning America" talk show, was the keynote speaker for United Regional Foundation's 10th annual Heart of a Woman brunch.

The wear-red event Saturday at the Multi-Purpose Events Center began 10 years ago as a luncheon at the Wichita Falls Country Club.

Today Lunden, at 63, has seven children, including two sets of twins, ages 10 and 8. She has built a new career promoting healthy living, such as heart health, which was Saturday's topic.

Getting out in front of disease must be a woman's new goal, she said.

She must monitor her own health, take herself to the doctor with the same regularity that she takes her car to the repair shop, research her family history, keep good records and put them on the Internet where they'll be accessible in crisis.

"If we all did this, we could change health care in America," she said.

Such attention to detail is important for busy women, whose symptoms of heart trouble can be subtle: sweating, arm or back pain, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness.

Women's lives -- and their stress levels -- have changed markedly since the days when Betty Friedan wrote her game-changing book, "The Feminine Mystique" in an effort to help women live more interesting, happier lives, Lunden said.

The 10 percent of American women who held down a job outside the home in 1960 has grown to 77 percent today.

In 2010 for the first time, the number of women in the workforce briefly outnumbered men.

More women than men are earning college degrees in every category -- associate, bachelor's, master's and doctorates. Eighteen governments -- such as Australia, Argentina, Costa Rica, Iceland, Thailand and Bangladesh -- are led by women.

Today, 40 percent of American women are the major breadwinner in their families.

"That's a whole lot of women with two full-time jobs," she said.

Such busy women have less free time, more stress, less sleep, less sex, more divorce and more heart disease," she said.

Lunden's own wake-up call came during a "Good Morning America" interview with a doctor who gave listeners a quiz that described symptoms of poor health -- all the symptoms she was currently experiencing, such as poor sleep, stress, and weight gain.

She took action by finding a nutritionist who taught her how to eat and feed her family better, hired an exercise trainer, joined a gym and put play back in her life.

She urged women to address the No. 1 reason for heart problems.

"Smoking! Really? Everyone didn't get that message?" she asked.

She outlined her own six-step plan for better heart health.

Become the CEO of your own health. "You're the only one listening to your body every day, monitoring your digestive tract and your sleep," she said. "Why don't we give our bodies the same care we give our cars? If the light comes on, you take it right in." No more "wait and see" if symptoms will disappear, she said.

Ask questions to become an expert on your family medical history. "If your father had colon cancer diagnosed at 45, you should be screened at an earlier age than 50, which is when screening is normally recommended. If you wait until you're 50, it could be too late."

Be a great patient. Even though building a good relationship with a doctor can be difficult, you must do it, she said. "You take all your clothes off, put on a paper robe, sit up with your feet dangling like an 8-year-old, and you have to remember all your questions," she said. But don't waste a doctor's time with idle talk. Ask questions. Tell her about another doctor you've seen. Take notes. Do reactive listening, repeating back to her what she is telling you so she knows you clearly understand.

Follow up a doctor's visit. "Don't assume no news is good news," she said.

Create your own personal health record history and store it on the cloud. "Nothing happens conveniently," she said of health care crises. If it's stored on the Internet, you'll have access to it anywhere.

Stay positive. The most difficult part of her nearly 20 years at "Good Morning America" was starting every day with an exuberance for life that she could pass on to viewers.

"The first thing you'd be subjected to was my attitude," she said. She learned to leave her crummy feelings in the dressing room. Women must let go of the need to do everything, saying "Nobody can pack the dishwasher like I can," she said. "They are habits, and they can be broken."

"Change your life by drawing strength from a community of women. "We are the author of our next chapter," she said.

Audience member Linda Bartlett said Lunden reminded her of things she knew she should be doing. Even though she has four children and 11 grandchildren, she doesn't keep a record of her health history. "I might should do that. My mother does that very well, but I don't," Bartlett said.

Audience member Bettye Humphrey Sanders, a nurse, had heart problems in 1981 and again in 2008. She underscored the advice given at the brunch that, in a crisis, you should call 911 instead of driving yourself to the hospital. Much can be done for you in the ambulance, such as inserting an IV line and doing an EKG, she said.

"Then you can go right into triage, not sit there and wait when you get there," Sanders said.

©2014 the Times Record News (Wichita Fallas, Texas)
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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