For one thing, the female heart is genetically designed to handle pregnancy, which offers protection during childbearing years. “Women’s hearts are able to handle a 30 percent increase in blood volume by the end of the second trimester, while men’s hearts cannot,” says William H. Frishman, MD, MACP, Director of Medicine at Westchester Medical Center, the flagship of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth). “Although men have higher rates of sudden death than women, women die at about the same rate as men, just later in life,” says Dr. Frishman.
Men used to smoke more than women, so statistics still show higher rates of heart attacks, cancer and lung disease. This will change because more women are smoking in recent years, he notes.
High-risk behaviors such as driving fast, not wearing seatbelts/helmets and illicit drug use tend to be more common in men. “Even though more women are widowed and live alone, men tend to adapt less well than women do,” says Dr. Frishman. “Women tend to have a higher sense of optimism than men.”
Access to healthcare and a healthy lifestyle affects life expectancy regardless of gender. “There are benefits from watching one’s cholesterol, blood pressure and diet. It’s also important to control your weight and to exercise regularly,” says Dr. Frishman. “Our high-stress, sedentary American lifestyle has to change. As men practice healthier lifestyle habits and take better care of themselves, they are living longer and approaching women’s survival rates.”
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