Heart disease. Cancer. Stroke. Thanks to strong public health awareness initiatives, many women are aware of the most common killers of women in the United States.
But while we know smoking, fast food and a lack of exercise are bad for us, are there other seemingly mundane activities or items that are posing serious health risks to women?
You may be surprised at some of the risks you don't know about.
PHOTOS: 6 Women's Health Risks To Know About Now
A study of 123,216 people over 14 years by the American Cancer Society found that <a href=" http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/06/24/sitting.shorten.life/index.html" target="_hplink">women who sit for more than six hours a day were 40 percent more likely to die </a>during the course of the study than those who sat fewer than three hours per day (men, in contrast, were about 20 percent more likely to die). The results, published in <em>The American Journal of Epidemiology</em>, found that the the <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38385104/ns/health-fitness/t/are-you-sitting-down-its-slowly-killing-you/#.TrhQ-FZxBcg" target="_hplink">damage done by sitting for such long periods cannot be undone by exercising</a>, though when combined with a lack of physical activity, the association was even stronger. <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38385104/ns/health-fitness/t/are-you-sitting-down-its-slowly-killing-you/#.TrhQ-FZxBcg" target="_hplink">Women and men who both sat more and were less physically active were 94 percent and 48 percent more likely to die </a>during the study period, respectively, compared with those who reported sitting the least and being most active. Alpa Patel, a researcher behind the study, said: <blockquote>Several factors could explain the positive association between time spent sitting and higher all-cause death rates .. Prolonged time spent sitting, independent of physical activity, has been shown to have important metabolic consequences, and may influence things like triglycerides, high density lipoprotein, cholesterol, fasting plasma glucose, resting blood pressure, and leptin, which are biomarkers of obesity and cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.</blockquote> <strong>Alternative: </strong>Request from your HR department for or invest yourself in an <a href="http://www.geekdesk.com/" target="_hplink">adjustable desk</a> that allows you to alternate between sitting and standing. Or you can try out what this blogger did and <a href="http://www.40tech.com/2010/06/22/my-experience-using-a-fitness-ball-as-my-office-chair/" target="_hplink">replace your office chair with a fitness ball </a>that will allow you to use your muscles <em>and</em> your mind as you work.
A study published this month in the <em>Journal of the American Medical Association</em> found that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/01/breast-cancer-alcohol-risk-three-drinks_n_1069636.html?ref=women&ir=Women" target="_hplink">just three alcoholic beverages per week may lead to modest increases in breast cancer risk.</a> Researchers looked at data from more than 100,000 women enrolled in the <a href="http://www.channing.harvard.edu/nhs/" target="_hplink">Nurses' Health Study,</a> one of the longest ongoing women's health studies in the U.S., and found that drinking between 5 and 9.9 grams of alcohol per day -- or the equivalent of three to six glasses of wine per week -- was linked with a 15 percent increase in breast cancer risk. <strong>Alternative:</strong> Save the wine for a night out with friends.
Love coming home to a house that smells like fall apples or vanilla? If you are using an air freshener, the scent may be costing you healthwise. A <a href="http://timewellness.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/0083-000282_handout_pres.pdf" target="_hplink">report released this past weekend at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology</a> annual conference found that "20 percent of the population and <a href=" http://healthland.time.com/2011/11/08/why-air-fresheners-can-trigger-respiratory-problems/#ixzz1d8rYuGhu" target="_hplink">34 percent of people with asthma report health problems from air fresheners</a>." A previous <a href="http://www.nrdc.org/health/home/airfresheners/fairfresheners.pdf." target="_hplink"> test of 14 popular air fresheners by the NRDG found that 86 percent of them contained phthalates</a>, a harmful chemical known to cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects, reproductive problems and allergies and asthma when used indoors. None of the 14 fresheners in the NRDC study listed phthalates as an ingredient -- and several were marketed as "all-natural" or "unscented." <strong>Alternative: </strong>Use candles (after you check the batteries in your smoke alarem.) Or open a window to get some naturally fresh air.
Be aware of what chemicals your dry cleaner is using. CBS recently reported that <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/02/23/earlyshow/contributors/tracysmith/main2507444.shtml" target="_hplink">three out of four dry cleaners nationwide use a chemical called perchloroethylene, or PERC</a>, a chemical that's actually illegal in California. As described on the <a href="http://epa.gov/dfe/pubs/garment/ctsa/factsheet/ctsafaq.htm#4" target="_hplink">Environmental Protection Agency on their website</a> side effects of overexposure to PERC are pretty frightening: <blockquote>People exposed to high levels of perc, even for brief periods, may experience serious symptoms. Those include dizziness, fatigue, headaches, confusion, nausea, and skin, lung, eye and mucous membrane irritation. Repeated exposure to high levels can also irritate the skin, eyes, nose and mouth, and can cause liver damage and respiratory failure. Perc might cause effects at lower levels as well ... In laboratory studies, perc has been shown to cause cancer in rats and mice when they swallow or inhale it. There is also evidence, from several studies of workers in the laundry and drycleaning industry, suggesting a causal association between perc exposure and elevated risks of certain types of cancer. .. In 1995, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), convened a panel of internationally regarded experts which concluded that perc is "probably carcinogenic to humans."</blockquote> <strong>Alternative:</strong> Ask your dry cleaner what chemicals are being using to clean your clothes before you hand them over, and don't forget to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/20/dry-cleaning-secrets-nine-things-you-need-to-know_n_1022931.html#s423072&title=Dont_Try_To" target="_hplink">take off the plastic wrap when you get home</a> to let your clothes breathe and release any lingering fumes.
A study published in October in<em><a href="http://ajph.aphapublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/AJPH.2011.300275v1" target="_hplink">The American Journal of Public Health</a></em> examined national crash data from 1998 to 2008 and found that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/24/women-car-accident-dangerous-injury_n_1022849.html" target="_hplink">women are 47 percent more likely to suffer injuries from car accidents than men,</a> thanks to safety features designed around a man's body, not a woman's. <strong>Suggestion</strong>: While you wait for car companies to start designing safety feature for a woman's body, Dipan Bose, lead author of the crash study, suggested in the <em>New York Times</em> that female drivers "ensure that their safety systems perform optimally, including <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/01/health/research/women-at-greater-risk-of-injury-in-car-crashes-study-finds.html" target="_hplink">maintaining a good belt fit and correct seating posture</a>."
New studies suggest that the <a href=" http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/11/08/hidden-health-effects-traffic-jams/#ixzz1d9a18B2c" target="_hplink">exhaust you inhale on your commute could have a long-term impact on your brain</a>: "The evidence is growing that air pollution can affect the brain," says medical epidemiologist Heather Volk at USC's Keck School of Medicine. "We may be starting to realize the effects are broader than we realized," she told Fox News. Researchers at the University of Southern California are examining <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/11/08/hidden-health-effects-traffic-jams/#ixzz1d9aJHapf" target="_hplink">the effects of traffic pollution on the brain health of 7,500 women</a> in 22 states. While the results of that study are not yet in, a 2009 study found that the <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19733348," target="_hplink">proximity of elderly women to traffic correlated to a decrease in brain function, </a> and a 2008 Dutch study found that a<a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7288176.stm" target="_hplink">n hour of inhaling exhaust fumes may alter the way the brain functions</a>. The BBC reports that the study showed that after about 30 minutes, the brains of human subjects placed in exhaust-filled rooms displayed a stress response indicative of a change in the way information the brain processes information.