“Heart disease is the leading killer of women,” says Dr. Goldberg, “and only 1 in 5 women realizes she is at risk.” One chief risk factor is hypertension, a.k.a. high blood pressure, and before age 55, men are likelier to have it. “But as women get older,” she says, “their blood pressure goes up because their blood vessels aren’t as flexible.” By age 65, women overtake men. Ten years later, the gulf is sizable: About 4 of 5 U.S. women are hypertensive, versus 2 of 3 men.
While genetics play a role in your odds of developing the condition, your physical wellbeing is a big determinant. “There are things that improve blood vessel flexibility, such as eating right and exercising,” says Dr. Goldberg. The key is to start early: “Studies that say that women who go into menopause leading a healthy lifestyle—who maintain it through menopause—go to the hospital less.”