The Gift of a Generation: Women's Heart Disease Risk Dropping

It's important for a woman to "know her numbers," such as cholesterol levels (both good and bad), fasting blood sugar, body mass index, and blood pressure. Smoking, diabetes and family history of heart disease are other major factors.

Ideal numbers for women are posted on www.goredforwomen.org, and Wood says that if one's levels are not ideal, one should take steps to control them.

The most obvious and immediate step is to stop smoking if you're a smoker, Miller says. "A woman who smokes has her first heart attack something like 19 years before one who doesn't."

"Alter your diet to include more fresh fruits and veggies, less fat, and try to include oily fish twice a week," she adds.

"And if you are not active, try to at least get in 10,000 steps a day, a little over two and a half miles. Get a pedometer and track your steps daily," she says. The exercise doesn't have to be all in one go at the gym, but can be broken up throughout the day into little spurts of activity or short walks.

And even if the numbers are low, and you're not a smoker, Miles' case is an argument for the importance of genetic risk.

"If it had not been for my brother's [condition]," Miles says, "I might not have thought I was at risk, I might have put it off longer."

But because she caught it early, Schindler says, "Jan has no heart damage and her heart function is normal. She was back exercising within 72 hours of her surgery."

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