Here’s a fact you may already know: Heart disease, not cancer, is the leading cause of death in the U.S. Twenty-five percent—one out of every four—of the nation’s total deaths each year, in fact, are caused by heart disease. That’s a frightening statistic for everyone, but especially for women who are at greater risk for heart disease than most of us believe. Good Magazine recently created a myth-busting graphic that inspired us to find out more.
Here are some more surprising facts we learned:
1. More Women Are Affected by Heart Disease than Men
Think of how many TV dramas you’ve seen where the anxious wife cautions her emotional husband to “remember your heart!” Now think of how many times you’ve seen the roles reversed. Not many, right? In our cultural mindset, heart disease is the domain of men. In reality, 28 percent more women die of heart disease than men in this country every year. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), that’s one woman every minute.
2. Heart Disease Causes More Deaths than Breast Cancer
In 2010, heart disease took the lives of 10 times as many women as breast cancer. One in three female deaths in the U.S. was caused by heart disease last year, says the AHA, while one in 30 resulted from breast cancer.
3. Even Young Women Can Get Heart Disease
Post-menopausal women are at the greatest risk for heart attacks, but factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking can increase your chances at any age. And the statistics are getting worse. According to Good, 21 percent more women in their 30s and 40s died of sudden heart attacks in the 1990s than in previous decades.
4. You Can Greatly Reduce Your Risk
You can’t control your family’s history of heart disease, but you can control your future. By quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and BMI, eating nutritiously, and exercising regularly you can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease at any age.
5. Take These Numbers to Heart
If you think you might be at risk, talk to your doctor about where your health stacks up against these stats from the American Heart Association:
Risk Factor Optimal Level
Blood pressure Less than 120/80 mm
Total cholesterol Less than 200 mg/dL
LDL — “Bad” cholesterol Less than 100 mg/dL
HDL — “Good” cholesterol Greater than 50 mg/dL
Triglycerides Less than 150 mg/dL
Glucose (HbA1c) Less than 7%
Body mass index (BMI) Less than 25
Waist circumference Less than 35 inches