Despite all the negative headlines, there’s actually good news when it comes to the top health threat for men and women. 

By Lynya Floyd

Women, however, need to take special care when it comes to their hearts. “In the past decade, there’s been a dramatic drop in the death rate from cardiovascular disease,” says Alexandra J. Lansky, MD, director of the Yale Cardiovascular Clinical Research Program. “We still see an excess mortality in women,” laments Lansky. “We’ve come a long way in terms of early detection, education and therapies, but we still have a ways to go.”

Here are four promises you can make to yourself to take better care of your ticker—today.

1. I will never delay a 911 call.

“Women tend to brush off their symptoms,” says Lansky. In fact, they wait longer to call emergency medical services than men do, according to a new study released by the American College of Cardiology. Women, on average, let an hour lapse before picking up the phone. Men averaged 45 minutes. “Fifteen minutes can make a massive difference,” explains Lansky. “If you’re in the middle of a heart attack and you delay by 15 minutes, you could go into cardiac arrest.” This tendency to wait before calling 911 is just one of several factors experts suspect contribute to women’s poorer outcomes with heart attacks. Save your own life by recognizing the warning signs and getting to a hospital ASAP.

2. I will eat better, bit by bit.

Listen, we know you’re not going to overhaul your—and your family’s—eating habits overnight. But could you commit to making one healthy change this week (like no more  soda in the house), another next week (eating fish twice a week) and so on? “When preparing meals, you want to go high protein and low carbohydrate,” suggests Lansky. “Skip the soda and get the sugar out of your diet as much as possible. Consuming excess sugar can lead to blood vessels going from nice and pliable—which you want—to hard and stiff—which you don’t.”

3. I will exercise, every single day.

We’re not talking about running 10K every morning, but how about clipping on a pedometer and getting your 10K steps in? “Any type of outdoor activity is key for you and your family to stay fit,” says Lansky. Just 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week, for example, lowers your risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

4. I will talk to my doctor.

When you head to your PCP for a visit, always ask if there’s anything you can do to improve not just your overall health but disease states you may be concerned about. For those with symptoms of heart disease, for example, there’s a new blood test that can help your doctor rule out obstructive coronary artery disease. It’s called the Corus CAD test. “It’s more accurate at excluding a severe blockage than a nuclear stress test,” says Lansky. “It’s a game-changer.”

While there’s always more we can do, these promises will get you—and your family—on the road to better health. “Women are in a unique position to impact so many people around them—husbands, children, parents,” says Lansky. “And a healthy lifestyle is the most important thing you can commit to.”

Alexandra J. Lansky, MD, is director of the Yale Cardiovascular Clinical Research Program, Yale School of Medicine. She is also associate professor of medicine and a practicing cardiologist at Yale-New Haven Hospital, in New Haven, CT. Dr. Lansky has authored and coauthored over 500 academic peer-reviewed manuscripts and book chapters in the fields of interventional cardiology, angiography and women’s cardiovascular health. She is a fellow of the European Society of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, the Society of Angiography and Intervention and the American College of Cardiology.