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Sherri Shepherd wants women to be aware of heart disease risks: 'When you take control of your health, then you can take care of others'

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Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, particularly Black women, women of color and young women. And for actress and comedian Sherri Shepherd, this is no laughing matter.

"Diabetes and heart disease, strokes they all run in my family," Shepherd, 54, tells Yahoo Life. "And so getting control of our health has been number one priority for my family, for the Shepherds. I want to encourage women to go and get screenings, go and get your numbers."

The numbers Shepherd is talking about are your risk factors, which can include cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index — and research shows that 90 percent of women face one or more, and that one in three women die of heart disease.

"When you ask women what her number one health threat is, many times she'll say breast cancer, just because of the awareness," New York City–based cardiologist Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum tells Yahoo Life. "And so I think that education is power [and] the more that women know, the more chance they['ll] being able to take care of themselves and advocate for themselves. When we know that something's wrong with us and a doctor will say, 'it's because you're stressed,' we have to be able to say, 'I know my risk. I think it's my heart. I want you to check my heart.'"

Shepherd adds that taking charge of her health is what made a huge difference for her.

"I started incorporating more fruits and vegetables. I started putting down the salt, cutting out that sugar. I'm three years sugar-free and it has made such a difference in my life. Also exercising. I started rollerskating and doing salsa dancing, jumping on the trampoline. I bought a bike for my birthday. I do pole dancing probably two to three times a week. Let me tell you something about pole dancing. It is abs, it is arms. It is, it is thighs. Try lifting a hundred something pounds on a pole, that's better than any weights," she says.

The mom of one explains that her new lifestyle has had effects that she had not been expecting, including improving her relationship with her son, 16-year-old Jeffrey and reversing her type-two diabetes.

"When I went to the doctor, because I've been incorporating all of these health things in my life, she took my numbers and she said, 'you're not even diabetic anymore,'" she says. "So somewhere between rollerskating, pole dancing and salsa, I lost the diabetes. I lost the sugar. That's what we call it, the sugar."

Shepherd says that her own health journey inspired her to partner with the Go Red for Women awareness campaign of the American Heart Association, as she loves the fact that the organization seeks to inspire women to tend to their own needs.

"So many times, as women, we nurture and we give and we mother and we put ourselves last. We don't go to the doctor. We don't take care of ourselves and we go, 'We'll get around to it.' We can't! Because heart disease is the number one killer of us. When you take control of your health, then you can take care of others," she says.

Steinbaum echoes these sentiments, emphasizing the importance of self-love.

"Women just traditionally put themselves last, always compromising and always trying to take care of everyone else around them. If we don't have self-love [then] you don't have the bandwidth to even fit into the schedule," says the doctor. "And I also think women are very hard on themselves. They're never doing enough. They're always blaming themselves, [saying things like], 'I can't gain weight. I should exercise more. I should eat better.' There's always a thing we're so critical on [about] ourselves. And I think that if we don't have this piece of self-love, we won't make room to take care of ourselves and we're not kind to ourselves. And I think it's so important."

Shepherd advises women to visit Go Red for Women and CVS Health's websites to find out where to go to get a free screening through May 15.

"Take charge, take the one step and go find out what your numbers are. The next step, incorporate more water. The next step, get moving, get some form of exercise in all of this is good for your heart. You won’t regret it. You really won’t," she urges.

Video produced by Stacy Jackman

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