Recovering the Sacred — making life changes to reclaim your health
Indigenous women experience poorer health when compared to other Americans. For example:
We have a life expectancy that is about 5.5 years shorter.
Indigenous people overall continue to die at higher rate due to chronic liver disease, diabetes, assault/homicide, suicide and chronic respiratory disease.
Native women are more likely to suffer from obesity and hypertension than our non-native counterparts.
Native women have the highest rate of tobacco use as well as higher rates of binge drinking, heavy drinking and illicit drug use.
The number of teenage pregnancy is higher among indigenous women than all other racial groups in the U.S.
Lower life expectancy and disproportionate health status of indigenous women can be attributed to poverty, inadequate education, lack of health insurance, a lack of access to healthcare services, discrimination and cultural differences.
However, there are ways we can make a difference in our own health. It takes determination and a willingness to take charge of our personal lives and make positive changes.
When it comes to health, the choices we make in our ‘20s and ‘30s can affect our health for the rest of our lives. Ask yourself: Do you get enough sleep each night? Do you schedule an annual well-woman visit? Do you exercise regularly? Are you honest with yourself about your eating habits? Do you smoke, or drink alcohol?
Below is a look at a few changes to make in our lives that can impact and improve our health and our future.
Pay attention to what you eat
Never mind the fad diets; just follow a few simple rules:
The healthiest foods don’t come in wrappers or by way of a drive thru. Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Limit starches (e.g. potatoes, pasta, rice).
Eliminate the sugary sodas and drink water instead.
Re-introduce traditional foods such as fish, game meat, berries and nuts into your diet.
Frybread unfortunately is here to stay — limit it to special occasions.
Stay away from fried food: broil, grill or roast meats and steam or roast vegetables.
Eat at the table -not in front of a TV- at regular meal times with people you love.
Get up and get out
Sedentary lifestyles can set the stage for weight gain and major health problems. Joining a gym is not for everyone, so think of ways to get moving that work with your lifestyle. Whatever you do, remember to get at least 30 minutes of activity on most days:
Get outside. Mow the lawn. Plant something. Take your dog for a walk. Wash the car.
Increase your steps by parking farther away from the store entrance or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Go dancing. Learn to powwow dance.
Ask a friend or relative to join you in walking, running or biking a few days a week.
Make an appointment
Make an appointment with your physician, midwife or nurse practitioner for an annual well woman visit. This is the perfect opportunity to discuss diet, exercise, how to quit smoking, family planning, anxiety, depression and any preventive screenings you may need.
Make a list of questions to ask, and don’t be shy about putting some of your tougher issues down. If you are sexually active ask about STD testing and birth control.
Relax, decompress and breathe
How you feel can have a long-term impact on your health. Chronic stress can lead to depression, anxiety, heart disease and obesity:
Get a good night’s sleep — 7 to 8 hours, whenever you can.
Set aside time for yourself: take a bath, read a book, go for a pedicure or see a movie.
Practice meditative breathing: Find a comfortable quiet spot and close your eyes. Take a slow deep breath in through your nose and slowly exhale out through your mouth. Repeat this for several breaths; the difference in how you feel will amaze you.
Make wise choices
Making intelligent decisions puts you in the charge-of yourself, your family and your future. Be aware of the small decisions that can have a huge impact on your health:
Buckle up and put down your phone while driving.
Stop smoking — or better yet, don’t start.
Eliminate alcohol and illicit drugs from your life.
Practice safe sex.
Stranger danger — I know this might sound like silly advice for grown women, but our sisters and daughters are going missing and murdered in epidemic numbers.
The historical trauma suffered by our grandmothers has had long-lasting and devastating effects. And while the cards remain stacked against us, there are some things we can change.
We can reclaim our health by taking control and making positive choices for a healthier future for our families and ourselves. We carry the culture, language and traditions for future generations like our mothers before us.
It is our responsibility to leave behind a legacy we are proud of.
Rebecca Chavez is a certified nurse-midwife and a women’s health care provider, an enrolled member of the Western Shoshone and a mother of two. She feels that every Native woman’s journey is a revealing story of strength, courage and wisdom. If you wish to join in the discussion, contact her at email@example.com.