Facts are facts: Men and women have unique physiologies, which means they have different needs when it comes to health, fitness, and nutrition—especially at various stages of their lives.
While a lot of health and fitness research is still, unfortunately, conducted on men (and therefore doesn’t necessarily apply to women), scientists and health experts have been working to give women-specific guidance more of the attention it deserves.
If you’re tired of scrolling through a newsfeed full of health advice and wondering what actually applies to you, as a woman, look no further. Here, experts break down the health and fitness tips they wish all women had on their radar.
1. Don’t shy away from strength training
Though women have long been steered in the direction of cardio, incorporating regular strength training is increasingly important for women throughout the course of their lives.
Not only does strength training help prevent injuries, make it easier to maintain a healthy weight, and improve your cardiovascular system, but it’s also one of few ways you can improve bone density, says personal trainer Holly Roser, C.P.T.
Osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become weak and brittle, affects four times as many women as men, but strength training (done with free weights, weight machines, or resistance bands) can help offset bone loss, promote bone growth, and help women avoid fractures as they get older, according to Harvard Medical School.
Read More: 5 Strength Moves Everyone Should Do
The muscle-building benefits of strength training can also help preserve muscle over time, which not only promotes a zippy metabolism but also indirectly helps protect bones, says sports nutritionist Sarah Koszyk, M.A., R.D.N.
Not to mention, research suggests that women who strength train have higher self-esteem and body image.
Just two to three strength training sessions per week can make a difference.
2. Enjoy More fiber-rich carbs
Thanks to decades of diet marketing, many women fear eating carbs because they associate them with weight gain. However, high-fiber carbohydrates (think starchy vegetables, fruit, beans and legumes, and whole grains—not baked goods or white pasta), actually support weight loss and promote overall health, says Koszyk. The fiber in these carbohydrate sources binds with fat and sugar molecules in the digestive tract, helping to keep you feeling full and supporting a healthy gut.
Read More: 7 Signs Low-Carb Isn’t Working For You
Believe it or not, shunning these foods often does more harm than good. “Many times, women crave sugar because they are hungry or haven’t consumed enough energy-rich foods,” Koszyk explains. “High-fiber carbs can reduce sugar cravings, which can result in less binge-eating behaviors.”
The takeaway: Don’t fear fiber-filled fruits like bananas or starchy vegetables like potatoes, Koszyk says.
3. Consume ample Calories
Although women generally need fewer calories than men, many women—especially active ones—are prone to undereating, explains dietitian Elise Harlow, M.S., R.D.N. (You can thank diet culture for this one, too.)
In addition to irritability, fatigue, difficulty building or maintaining muscle, and constant thoughts about food, “[undereating] can lead to an increased risk of certain diseases, like osteoporosis, as well as vitamin and mineral deficiencies,” says Raleigh-based dietitian Christine Byrne, M.P.H., R.D. It also negatively impacts your metabolism, exercise performance, immune system, and more, Harlow adds.
One way to ensure you get the calories your body needs: Prioritize nutritious foods without eliminating anything from your diet (remember what we just said about those wholesome carbs?). By eliminating entire categories of foods, you run the risk of falling short on important nutrients, as well as calories overall, Byrne says.
If you need help getting a sense of your calorie needs (and whether you’re meeting them), consider working with a registered dietitian, who can evaluate your current eating habits and help you make healthy adjustments, adds Harlow.
4. Up your calcium and vitamin D intake
Since osteoporosis affects one in three women over 50, bone health—and thus calcium intake—should be top-of-mind for women of all ages. “Getting enough calcium—and vitamin D—is very important for maintaining bone strength and health,” Koszyk says.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), women need the following amounts of calcium per day throughout their lives:
- Ages 14-18: 1,300 milligrams
- Ages 19-50: 1,000 milligrams
- Age 51 and older: 1, 200 milligrams
Where to get it? “Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium, but those who are allergic or sensitive to dairy can get calcium from fortified dairy alternatives (like almond milk and oat milk), leafy greens, and calcium supplements,” says Byrne.
And about that vitamin D: Calcium requires vitamin D to be absorbed properly, so Byrne recommends watching your intake of the sunshine vitamin, too. (The NIH recommends 600 IU per day for women under 70, though many experts now believe we need closer to 2,000 IU daily.) You can get D from salmon, eggs, fortified foods, and supplements.
5. Focus On folate
Everyone needs folate because the body uses it to develop new cells—but it’s especially essential for women during their menstruating years because of the role it plays in an embryo’s neural tube development during pregnancy.
According to the New York State Department of Health, neural tube defects (NTDs) affect about 4,000 pregnancies each year—about 70 percent of which can be prevented should women consume 400 micrograms of folate per day before pregnancy and during the first trimester.
Research shows that two-thirds of women in the U.S. have low folate levels, so, chances are, you could benefit from getting more. Green vegetables and beans are good sources—and many cereal products are fortified with folate, too, Byrne says. “Plus, if you’re thinking about becoming pregnant—or if it’s even a possibility—it’s a good idea to take a folate supplement or add folate-rich nutrition bars to your daily routine,” she recommends.
6. Limit your alcohol intake
Although men consume more alcohol than women, women are more vulnerable to long-term consequences of alcohol use, such as liver diseases, cognitive decline, heart disease, and cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.
One of the most impactful ways women can improve their health and lower their risk of chronic diseases is to keep alcohol consumption to a minimum, says Byrne. “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that women consume no more than one alcoholic drink per day,” she explains.
7. Prioritize sleep
According to the Office on Women’s Health, insomnia affects more women than men, with one in four women experiencing trouble sleeping. For this reason, physician Dr. Susan Lovelle, M.D., M.A.C.M., recommends that women pay extra close attention to their sleep routines.
Insufficient sleep impacts production of important hormones like melatonin and oxytocin, contributes to the build-up of toxins and other waste, and more. “All of these can lead to high blood pressure, hormone imbalances, resistant weight, and lower cognitive performance,” Lovelle warns.
Though getting more sleep isn’t always as easy as it sounds, Lovelle offers the following tips to promote better quality rest:
- Create a consistent sleep schedule. Try not to bounce back and forth between going to bed and sleeping late on the weekends and doing so early during the week.
- Have a nighttime ritual. Try to wind down before bedtime by turning off the screens (phone, computer, TV) and reading a book, journaling, or taking a warm bath instead.
- Avoid heavy, greasy meals before bed. The task of digesting heavy meals makes it difficult to rest. Stick to a light snack that provides protein, like nuts, right before bed.
- Keep calm. If you wake up in the middle of the night, stay in bed and listen to relaxing music or a guided meditation until you fall back to sleep.
8. Practice intuitive eating
Perhaps due to the body-related social pressures and diet messaging that women are assaulted with from a young age, women are more likely to have unhealthy relationships with food—and less likely to eat intuitively—than men, says Koszyk.
Intuitive eating is all about paying attention to and following internal hunger cues and food signals, as opposed to following diet rules or advice. According to a review published in Public Health Nutrition, intuitive eating involves three things:
- Eating when you feel hungry
- Ending your meal when you feel full
- Not putting any restrictions on your diet except for health reasons
The benefits? The review suggests that intuitive eating is linked with improved physical and mental health outcomes. Plus, another review shows that intuitive eating promotes positive self-esteem, better eating habits, and enhanced body satisfaction.
While rigid diets don’t enable people to find true balance and moderation, and often demonize certain foods and result in feeling guilt and shame around eating them, intuitive eating accomplishes the opposite, Koszyk says. (This guide to eating more mindfully will help you make the switch.)
9. Move Regularly
Research shows that women are generally less physically active than men—and, according to the CDC, up to 60 percent of women in the U.S. don’t achieve the recommended amount of physical activity (150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week).
So, ladies, it’s time to get moving. “Studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle can be as detrimental to your health as smoking,” says Lovelle. Regular physical activity, meanwhile, is beneficial for weight management, reducing stress levels, maintaining strong bones and joints, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases. In fact, research suggests that women who walk briskly for 30 minutes five out of seven days a week cut their risk of a heart attack in half.
In addition to scheduling regular exercise time, Lovelle also recommends adding more short bursts of movement to your day. “Every hour to 90 minutes, get up and move,” she says.
10. Say “No” More Often
One of the most impactful and revolutionary actions women can take for their wellbeing is to learn to say “no,” says London-based therapist Sally Baker. “Because women are raised to be compliant and helpful, they tend to park their own needs and put others first,” she explains.
“Young girls pick up subconsciously on early inferred messages that they’ve worthy of praise only when they are quiet, modest, and helpful to others,” Baker adds. “In adulthood, then, women may struggle to prioritize what they want and need for themselves over and above the needs of everyone else in their family.”
The frustration and stress women often deal with as a result of this pattern can up their production of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which may elevate heart rate and blood pressure and impair immune function, according to Baker.
Since learning to say “no” is like building a muscle, Baker recommends starting by practicing saying it five times per day. (Don’t worry, these no’s can be small!) “Like a muscle, your ability to say ‘no’ and prioritize your own needs will strengthen,” she says.
Her advice: “Practice pausing and giving yourself an opportunity to explore what you want without the usual knee-jerk agreement. Then say yes or no without (later) regrets.”
11. Schedule daily self-care
“Though women are more interested in self-help and more likely to have self-improvement type resolutions, they are also more likely to put the needs of their family and work before theirs,” says Dr. Saloumeh Bozorgzadeh, PsyD, owner of Evolve Wellness. “Research also suggests that women are more likely to exhibit perfectionism and negative self-talk than men.” There are plenty of reasons for this, from expectations that women both work and manage their households to media portrayals of women and their bodies.
To combat the less-than-sunny self-talk, Lovelle recommends making a list of 10 loving self-affirmations that you can repeat throughout the day. Doing so helps your mind and body feel safe, calms your nervous system, and allows you to be more creative and enjoy life more fully, she says. Try phrases like “I am the creator of my life” or “I do my best and release the rest.”
Otherwise, pencil in daily time to do something for yourself—even if it’s just five minutes—every day. (These nine acts of self-care take a few short minutes.)