With any personal goal, a valuable first step is to find out where you are and what you have to gain. Reducing your risk of having a heart attack or other cardiovascular event in the next 10 years is no different. You know how you feel and probably already know some things you'd like to change. But seeing your current risk and how even small changes can reduce it can provide additional motivation to improve your health starting now.
Many women mistakenly think cardiovascular disease (CVD) primarily affects men. However, one in three adult women already has some form of CVD (PDF). Most people have increased their risk through lifestyle and health behaviors. Not getting enough physical activity or sleep, consuming too much sugar and other refined carbohydrates, or just carrying extra weight increases your risk of CVD. A cardiovascular risk assessment is an easy way to find out where you are and what your current health behaviors may be costing you.
Research suggests that setting a baseline by getting an estimate of your individual cardiovascular risk can help you see more clearly what you have at stake and what you can do to improve your chances of a long and healthy life. Whether you are taking initial steps to improve your health or already engage in good nutrition and exercise and get enough sleep, assessing your current health can help you make choices on your next steps.
You can estimate your cardiovascular risk using Sister to Sister's new online assessment tool Smart for the Heart to calculate your risk of having a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack, in the next 10 years. The tool follows the new cardiovascular risk estimation guidelines which physicians use in making treatment decisions. Knowing your current risk can also help you track changes, respond to increased risk and celebrate improvements. You can play around with it and see how small changes can make a difference in your estimated risk. No matter what your current cardiovascular risk, the best time to start prioritizing your health is today. Knowing that you are making a difference in your health can help you maintain improved health behaviors such as diet and exercise.
Chloe E. Bird is a senior sociologist at the RAND Corporation, where she studies women's health and health care as well as social determinants of health. She is a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School and editor-in-chief of the journal Women's Health Issues.
This commentary originally appeared on Sister to Sister on June 26, 2014. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.