May 16th, 2008
11:10 AM ET

Making medical "me time"

By Val Willingham
Medical Producer

I have never been one for running out and getting medical tests.  Even though I work in the CNN medical unit and report on the importance of preventive medicine, I always seemed to lag behind on mammograms, physicals and exams.  So when I got my first colonoscopy a few months ago, even I was surprised that I took the time to do it.

When I was younger I saw my doctor once a year but as I got older and became a mom, I sort of put myself on the back burner.  My daughter's health, my husband's health, even my dog's health were more important.  I used to squeeze in my own medical appointments between work, tennis practice, play rehearsals and driving lessons. The only time I saw a doctor was in the emergency room for minor cuts and scrapes.   So after my daughter went off to college, I began to reevaluate my health and realized I needed to get back on track.   I scheduled a mammogram, a physical, dental and eye exams and the colonoscopy.   As I ticked off my medical "to-do list" it felt good to know I was taking better care of myself. 

Doctors say many busy women put off important tests because they just don't have time.  They seem to focus on other things or other people instead of themselves.  And that's not good, because in order to stay healthy women should be getting certain tests every year. (Watch Video)

Beginning in our 30s or younger, women should know their numbers, their cholesterol, their blood pressure and how much they weigh.  The American Heart Associations says heart disease is the Number 1 killer of women.  Physicians say the focus on heart health should begin at a young age.  That means exercise and eating a healthy diet that's low in sodium and fat and high in Omega 3 fatty acids.  And be sure to load it up on fruits and veggies.

Regular breast exams, pelvic exams and pap smears also are important, and some women may want to consider adding more calcium to their diets for strong bones.

In our 40s, women are generally encouraged to begin getting regular mammograms. Although there's been some controversy on this topic, the American Cancer Society says mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early. The earlier it's found the better chance of survival.

In our 50s, women should get colonoscopies for detection of colon cancer... and we must keep up with regular checkups.

So if you are one of those women like me who's been putting off important diagnostic tests, don't wait any longer.  Give yourself a little medical "me" time and get back on a healthy track to life.

Do you get regular exams to stay healthy?   How difficult is it for you to keep up with medical appointments?   Tell us about it.

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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.