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About 65 women learned about preventative healthcare, and topics from diabetes to dementia, at an “Art and Science of Healthy Women” event at UCF Pegasus Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice.

Speakers at the October 23 event were female College of Medicine faculty physicians who care for patients at Pegasus Health:

  • Dr. Maria Cannarozzi, medical director of Pegasus Health and an internal medicine specialist
  • Dr. Lisa Barkley, a specialist in adolescent, sport and family medicine who also serves as the medical school’s dean for diversity and inclusion
  • Dr. Analia Castiglioni, an internal medicine specialist who emceed the event
  • Dr. Mariana Dangiolo, a specialist in geriatric and family medicine
  • Dr. Angela Mazza, an endocrinologist who treats patients with diabetes and thyroid disease
  • Dr. Neha Bhanusali, a rheumatologist who specializes in diseases such as arthritis and lupus.

The physicians are wives, mothers, daughters and career women and said they understood the challenges of staying healthy as they care for everyone else. Dr. Cannarozzi said the goal of the event was not to preach but to provide information on “what it takes to be a healthy woman in today’s hectic world.”

Women need to take the time to focus on their health while they are busy caring for others, the physicians said. “Go see a doctor even if you’re feeling well,” Dr. Castiglioni said, “because prevention is key.” She noted that while many women get routine mammograms and pap tests, some are not as diligent for getting other screenings, like colonoscopies. While women tend to focus on their reproductive health in their 20s and 30s, they need to focus on other complex issues that can arise as they age past childbearing years, she said.

Aches and pains are part of the aging process, Dr. Bhanusali explained. Muscles, joints and bones can weaken. Simple activities like reaching for a jar in the pantry can cause a strained muscle in the shoulder or back. Staying active is the key to preventing some of these challenges, she said, but added that you don’t need a gym membership to keep fit. Walk in the mall, exercise with 5-pound weights at home. “Keep yourself in motion,” she said. “Do whatever physical activity makes you happy and fit that into your life.”

Women must be vigilant about their bone density, because it declines in some women very quickly, she said. Women who have taken steroids for asthma may suffer from osteoporosis even if they lack other risk factors. The goal, she said, is to identify bone density issues before a fracture occurs and requires bed rest, which weakens muscles. She also recommended that women over 50 have their vitamin D levels checked.

Dr. Mazza talked to participants about the epidemic of diabetes in America, noting that 1.5 million people are diagnosed with the disease every year and that 54 million Americans are pre-diabetic, at high risk for the disease. Diabetes can lead to heart, kidney and bone disease and obesity is a key factor in causing Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 percent of all cases.  People with apple-shaped bodies – a high concentration of fat located in their bellies – are at especially high risk. The key to preventing or controlling Type 2 diabetes is diet and lifestyle. The American Diabetes Association recommends people add 150 minutes of activity a week to what activities they are already doing. “Take extra steps throughout the day,” she said. “Get into a routine that includes increased physical activity.”

Dr. Barkley joked that adolescents can be tough but that she loves taking care of them “because they aren’t my own.” Keeping adolescents healthy means understanding how they think, she said. Teens are hard-wired to believe they are invincible. They are concrete thinkers who focus on the here and now. You can’t persuade them not to smoke by explaining they’ll get lunch cancer and yellow teeth in 40 years, she said. You must focus on immediate effects – your breath will smell and you won’t have money for other activities. Approach teens as a coach, rather than an authoritarian, she said. Help them reflect and make sense of their decisions and actions.

Dr. Dangiolo provided real-life tips for keeping the brain healthy and preventing memory loss, dementia, and the most serious form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease. She urged participants to consume folic acid, high-fiber foods, fruits and vegetables for brain health. Keep your mind active, she said. Learn new things – a language, a hobby. Read a book, do mental-exercise games on the Internet. “There are still changes for good in the brain as we age,” she said. “You just have to stimulate the brain.”

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