Adopting a healthier lifestyle is often a goal for many women, whether by losing weight, joining a gym, or quitting smoking. While those are great changes, there are other goals women might want to consider.

When making lifestyle changes, some women tend to focus on things they want to stop or lose to improve their health. Sometimes it might be better to think about positive changes that can improve your health in the long run.

With that in mind, here are the top three healthy things every woman should make:

#1: Know your numbers

Heart disease in women

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States. But how many women know whether their blood pressure is in the normal range or can tell a health care provider what their cholesterol levels are? Knowing and understanding your “numbers,” especially your blood pressure and cholesterol, can help you have a more productive discussion with your doctor about your heart health.

Once your doctor has your bloodwork results, ask him or her to explain them so you understand what they mean. Find out if your results are in the normal range. If not, discuss lifestyle changes that can help you lower your levels to reduce your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Blood sugar and diabetes

Do not forget about blood sugar levels. According to the American Diabetes Association, 96 million people in the United States have “pre-diabetes.” This happens when blood glucose levels are higher than normal but are not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Left untreated, this condition is likely to become type 2 diabetes.

The good news is that certain lifestyle changes like weight loss and exercise can prevent or delay its development by more than 50 percent. For women with risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a history of gestational diabetes, or a family history of diabetes, getting a Hemoglobin A1c test is important. This test reflects a person’s average blood sugar level over the past three months.

#2: Be creative about physical activity

Becoming more active is always a healthy goal. You do not need to hit the gym every day or go for a five-mile run. With a little creative thinking, you can easily add more activity into your day.

We know women have a lot to juggle. From career demands to caring for family members, women may find it a challenge to squeeze in the recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. But with a little planning, you can add more physical activity to your day by sneaking it in among other daily activities.

  • Park as far away from entrances as possible.
  • Go for a quick 10- to 15-minute walk on your lunch break.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Have housework that needs to be done?  Scrubbing the bathroom, vacuuming, or running up and down the stairs to put the laundry away can actually burn significant calories. Put on some music and keep up with the tempo.
  • Have to run errands?  Do several laps around the length of the supermarket, post office, etc. while you are there.
  • Catching up with an old friend? Take a walk while you are talking on the phone.
  • Involve your children. Challenge your child to a jumping jacks contest or dance with your toddler to your favorite music.

#3: Get your routine health screenings

Besides “knowing your numbers,” it is important for women to have certain routine exams and screenings. A physical exam, mammogram, and pap smear are all high on the list. But it is also important for women to remember their bone and colorectal health as well.

Bone health and bone density screening

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, it is estimated that about one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50 worldwide will suffer a broken bone due to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become weak and can break more easily. That is why it is recommended that most women start getting screened for osteoporosis with a bone density test at age 65.

Many women may not be aware their bones are weakening because osteoporosis does not always have symptoms. That is why early identification through a bone density test is vital. Many activities can help boost bone strength and delay the progression of osteoporosis, such as getting appropriate amounts of calcium and vitamin D each day and doing regular weight-bearing exercises, like walking, yoga, stair climbing, and dancing.

Colorectal cancer and colonoscopy

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. for both men and women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that as many as 50 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if all men and women 45 and older were screened routinely.

The reality is that colonoscopies can save lives. Unfortunately, many people shy away from them because it may be unpleasant and uncomfortable. With colorectal cancer, most patients have no symptoms until the cancer has progressed. If precancerous polyps are found during a colonoscopy, they can be removed before they turn into cancer. The procedure can also help identify and diagnose colorectal cancer early, when we know treatment works best.

Physicians now recommend that adults begin screening for colorectal cancer soon after turning 45 and continue screenings at regular intervals. If there are other risk factors for colorectal cancer present, such as a family history or a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease, earlier testing may be advised.

This year, take steps to help you enjoy more holidays with friends and family for many years to come. And make an appointment for your annual physical to start the year off right!

Iris L. Tong, MD

Dr. Iris Tong is an internal medicine physician providing primary care for women at Lifespan’s Women’s Medicine Collaborative.