By Helen Vong
As modern women, we know that not only does physical activity make us look hot in a tight dress, but it also wards off some pretty terrible diseases. And so each day, we lift, run, and crunch our way to a better body—and presumably better health. But are we only scratching the surface?
When it comes to conditions that attack our bodies underneath our exterior, it can be easy to assume a dedication to the gym makes us untouchable against cancers and cardiovascular diseases; that those ailments are reserved for the unfit, the elderly, or men. But new research is showing that exercise is not always enough to reduce the risks—especially for women. Here, we take a look at the hard (and sometimes frightening) facts concerning five of your most precious body parts—your organs. Read on to find out what you need to be doing now to keep them as fit as your physique.
What it does: Skin is the largest organ of your body and therefore performs many functions that are often taken for granted. For example, shivering when you’re cold is a response given by the brain to the skin telling it to keep heat in. Conversely, when you’re hot, the skin sweats as a way to reduce your body temperature. Skin is also a waterproof barrier against ultra-violet radiation (UVR) and infectious microorganisms.
It’s biggest threat: Skin cancer. When sunrays (UVR) strike the skin, it scatters, is reflected, or is absorbed. The UVR that is absorbed is made up of UVB (the burning rays) and UVA (the aging rays), and both harm the cell’s DNA and compromise the immune system. This damage, in turn, weakens your natural defense to cancer. “What’s important to realize is that there is no such thing as a healthy tan,” says Toronto-based dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett, MD, F.R.C.P. (C). “A sunburn and a tan are signs of skin damage and a risk of melanoma.”
Why you’re at risk: According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma is not the most common of skin cancers, but it is the deadliest and the chances of developing it are not insignificant — even for those of us living in cold climates. A 2014 report by the Canadian Cancer Society found that melanoma is one of the fastest rising of all cancers in Canada, affecting one in 73 women in their lifetime and one in 395 will die from it.
People who are most at risk are those with fair skin that burns or freckles, rather than tans; and those who spend a lot of time in the sun, use indoor tanning, or live (or have lived) in a hot climate such as Florida, the Caribbean, or northern Australia. Equally important to know, anyone can get skin cancer, even people who have darker skin.
Keep it healthy: Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimal SPF of 30 on your face, neck, and on exposed arms and legs all year round. Keep in mind that 70 percent of UV rays can penetrate through clouds, so even on overcast days it’s wise to wear sunblock. And if you’re planning on hitting the slopes this winter, be sure to cover your epidermis, as sunlight reflects off the snow so you can get a double dose of sun rays.