In my passion to ensure that the world understands the risks of cancer, obesity and diabetes, I have often referred to heart disease, coronary artery disease, as a collateral health issue. What I have neglected to do is give the number one killer of men and women the singular emphasis it deserves.

Although women consistently note that their biggest health concern is breast cancer, it is heart disease that claims the most lives of any health issue that women face. According to a recent article in Pink Magazine by Michele Cohen Marill, “1 in 10 women ages 45-64 lives with heart disease”.

Probably because men have dominated the heart attack scenes in movies, very little coverage or concern has been given to the fact that women now outnumber men in the heart disease/heart attack statistics. The culprit in this switching of roles seems to be stress, and plenty of it.

We’ve talk many times about the impacts of stress on the body and the article really drives home that point by noting that “a Swedish study found that women are six times more likely to have a heart attack if they have a high pressure deadline at work”.

Oh, that we would all learn that life is just too short for that kind of stress. I understand why we do it. As a business owner I put more than my fair share of stress on myself. I hope I offset that stress with some balance in the form of daily exercise. My daily run is intentionally planned in the middle of my work day. It puts things back in perspective and the health benefits are a bonus. Vacations are critical. My wife and I have promised each other that play will be a part of our busy life.

I guess where I am going with this, is that a busy life, even stress, are OK as long as you find a counterbalance and don’t let it build up.

Bottom line. From a life insurance standpoint, heart disease, and especially early onset heart disease present an underwriting challenge. Bypasses and angioplasties aside, if the root cause isn’t changed, if your health condition isn’t addressed with the same passion that your career has been, you are headed down a road that will continue to worsen and life insurance underwriters will drive home that point in the rates they offer, or the declines they dish out.

As with all health issues, underwriters wants to see that you have made the changes, that you are committed to the treatment and that you have in mind not to add to the wrong side of the heart disease statistics. A heart attack can be just the wake up call a person needs. Even better, avoiding that heart attack by learning what changes you need to make in your life, and proactively taking the road less traveled.