You may think of cardiovascular disease (CVD) as primarily affecting men. Yet one in three adult women already have some form of CVD (PDF), research shows, and most people have acquired risk factors from their lifestyle and health behaviors. Carrying extra weight, consuming too much sugar and refined carbohydrates and too little fruits and vegetables, not getting enough exercise or just being sedentary, and not getting sufficient sleep can all increase your risk of CVD. Consequently, getting a cardiovascular risk assessment is key to knowing where you are and what your current health behaviors may be costing you.
Women typically make health a priority and play a key role in maintaining the health of the family, studies show. Yet people often proceed as though self-care is selfish. Make your own health a priority and you'll be much more likely to be around to do all the other things you are committed to. While women are generally more likely than men to get health screenings and to adhere to medical treatments, the gender gap favors men in the case of screening for cardiovascular disease.
You need to know two things: CVD is the leading cause of death in women as well as men, and has killed more women than men in the United States every year since 1984 (PDF); and you can reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke through behavioral change, medication, or a combination of the two.
The sooner you start, the greater your opportunity to reduce your risk and increase your chances of living a longer and healthier life.
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 July 23, 2014. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.