And rising rates of obesity and diabetes threaten to overwhelm the improvements.
Two in three women over the age of 20 are either overweight or obese, researchers have found. And after falling for four decades, death rates from heart disease appear to be rising among U.S. women aged 35 to 54.
Black women are especially hard hit by hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease, while Hispanic women have more than double the rates of diabetes as non-Hispanic white women (12.7 percent compared to 6.5 percent).
To reduce the risk of heart disease, women should keep their total cholesterol level at 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or less; blood pressure at 120/80 mm Hg; and have a fasting blood glucose under 100 mg/dL.
Women should maintain a body mass index of less than 25, avoid smoking, cut down on salt, eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, according to the guidelines.
Studies have shown that only about 4 percent of women aged 50 to 79 do all of these things and are considered at the lowest risk for heart disease; 72 percent were at "some risk" of heart disease, while 11 percent were at high risk, defined as a 20 percent or greater chance of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years.
Other updates in the 2011 guidelines include:
Scientific evidence regarding women and heart disea
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