• Consumer Health: Women’s health and living a longer, healthier life

a group of diverse, middle-aged women friends walking on the beach and laughing

National Women's Health Week will be observed May 14–20, which makes this a good time to learn about two of the top threats to women's health and what you can do to keep yourself healthy.

Heart disease and cancer are two of the top three leading causes of death for women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The good news is that healthy lifestyle choices can reduce your risk for both.

Heart disease

Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart, including coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems, and disease of the heart muscle and valves. And some symptoms of heart disease in women can differ from those in men.

You can reduce your risk of heart disease by:

  • Not smoking, or quitting if you already do.
  • Controlling other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
  • Exercising at least 30 minutes per day most days of the week.
  • Eating a diet that's low in salt and saturated fat.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.


The three most common cancers for women in the U.S. are breast, lung and colorectal, according to the National Cancer Institute. Treatment for certain cancers can affect your sexuality, causing a range of signs and symptoms that can make sex with your partner more difficult.

You can reduce your risk of breast cancer by:

  • Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink to no more than one drink a day, if you choose to drink.
  • Exercising most days of the week, aiming for at least 30 minutes.
  • Limiting postmenopausal hormone therapy.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Eating a healthy diet, focused mostly on plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. 

You can reduce your risk of lung cancer by:

  • Not smoking, or quitting if you already do.
  • Avoiding secondhand smoke.
  • Testing your home for radon.
  • Avoiding carcinogens at work.
  • Eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercising most days of the week.

You can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer by:

  • Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation, if at all.
  • Not smoking, or quitting if you already do.
  • Exercising most days of the week.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.

Your next step

The pattern is clear, but it may seem overwhelming. You may not know where to begin, or how much difference a few small steps can make. Take control of your health by talking with your health care team about your lifestyle and health history. Then get serious about reducing your risk.

Connect with other women talking about their health in the Women's Health Support Group on Mayo Clinic Connect, an online patient community moderated by Mayo Clinic.

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