Reducing Modifiable Risk Factors to Improve Women’s Health

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August 30, 2017

By Claudia Curtis, MS, LAT, ATC

There are some things you just can’t change in life. Those wide hips your mother gave you, the fact that your hair won’t ever be straight in the humid days of summer thanks to generations of women on your dad’s side with frizzy ringlets. For me, it’s certainly the frizzy summer hair, but it’s a family history of breast cancer that spans generations. We can’t change genetics, but we also can’t live our lives worrying “what if?” So, what do we do?

As Athletic Trainers (ATs), one of our main focuses is prevention. We know that we cannot prevent all injuries from happening, but our goal is always to reduce the risk whenever possible. We cannot change the bony anatomy of someone’s knee, but we can improve the alignment of the lower extremity with strengthening and proprioceptive training to minimize poor body positioning to reduce the risk of an ACL tear in a young female.

The same approach can be applied to women’s health issues across the lifetime. According to the World Health Organization, the risk of non-communicable diseases (cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory issues) is expected to rise dramatically over the next few decades. Two of the main factors attributed to this increase are preventable risk factors: smoking and obesity.1 As ATs, we can help to educate from a young age the importance of avoiding tobacco, staying physically active and making appropriate dietary choices across the lifetime as a method of risk reduction for these conditions later in life. One study in 2011 indicated that as little as 75 minutes of physical activity per week can reduce cardiovascular risk by 14%.2

The NCAA has created a resource for athletes post career to reduce their risk of obesity and avoid living a sedentary lifestyle called Moving On! Their website has an entire area dedicated to helping former athletes ( Encouraging athletes to take advantage of these available resources is one step we can take as ATs to encourage our athletes to maintain a healthy lifestyle post-career. While we can never eliminate these non-communicable diseases, we can use our platform as visible health care professionals to encourage women to reduce their modifiable risk factors to improve quality of life and health.

1 Azenda, GA et al. Recommendations towards an integrated, life-course approach to women’s health in the post-2015 agenda. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2013;91:704-706. doi:

2Sattelmair J, Pertman J, Ding EL, Kohl HW 3rd, Haskell W, Lee IM. Dose response between physical activity and risk of coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis. Circulation 2011;124 (7):789–95.

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