Ladies, here’s the good: We must be doing something right. We outlive men by over five years on average in the U.S., and 75 percent of centenarians are women (National Center for Health Statistics, 2021). But what accounts for this longevity? We are good about keeping our annual checkups, completing preventative screenings and getting age-recommended vaccinations.
Prevention and early detection and treatment of illness are key. Continue to see your primary care physician for blood pressure checks, cholesterol screening and hemoglobin A1c for diabetes risk evaluation. Get your recommended mammogram, pap smear, bone density, colonoscopy, and lung cancer screening for smokers, as suggested by your physician. If you smoke, quit – Colorado Quitline offers free resources; call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
The bad: The U.S. ranks highest in maternal mortality when compared to all similar, wealthy countries. Women of color are disproportionately affected. It is estimated that two thirds of maternal deaths in the U.S. are preventable (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
And the ugly: Heart disease is still the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S., affecting one in three women, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Heart attack, heart failure, valvular heart disease and abnormal heart rhythm are all forms of heart disease. An increase in heart attacks is seen in women 10 years after menopause.
Also according to the AHA, chest pain or discomfort is the most common symptom of a heart attack, but women are more likely than men to have shortness of breath, jaw or back pain, or nausea/vomiting, which may be overlooked. Many heart attacks occur with no symptoms at all. Unfortunately, women aren’t always treated with standard preventive medical therapies such as aspirin, statins and blood pressure-lowering medication. Once considered to be a man’s disease, but sadly, women are more likely to die of a heart attack than men.
But don’t fret. There are things we can do to help us live long, healthy lives. The first one is to get moving. The CDC states that more than 25 percent of U.S. women are inactive and greater than 60 percent do not get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week.
Physical activity not only reduces your risk of heart disease but also that of high blood pressure, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, arthritis, and some cancers. Exercise also improves your mood, helps you sleep better, gives you more energy and reduces your risk of falling. Put on some music and show your moves like Mick Jagger or be more social and join your local Silver Sneakers.
When starting an exercise routine, check with your primary care physician for guidance. Then grab a friend and go for a brisk 30-minute walk – you may find you want to go every day. Having someone to be accountable with makes you more likely to complete the task and let’s face it, just makes it more fun!
Dr. Brittany Coveyou is an internal medicine physician at Lutheran Medical Center.