February is American Heart Month, and a perfect reminder to make small changes that can have a big impact in your heart health.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, so it makes sense to know a little bit about what makes your heart tick. While some risk factors like your age, gender, race and heredity cannot be controlled, others are very much in your own hands. The American Heart Association (AHA) has a number of strategies that can help you take control of these factors:

Eat with color. Healthy eating habits are at the top of the list. And if you follow AHA’s food color guidelines, as well as seasonal eating habits, you will be on your way to managing cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar level and a healthy weight. Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole-grains and high-fiber foods, fish, lean protein, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. All of these nutrient-rich foods are packed with vitamins and minerals, but are lower in calories.

Don’t weigh yourself down with expensive diet plans. Losing excess body fat is essential to heart health, and the AHA’s free diet and exercise program can help you get started on the right track.

Get physical by working your way up to 30 minutes of activity per day, at least five days per week. The AHA has numerous ways to help you make moderate physical activity a valued part of your life.

Check your stress at the door, and learn to control one of the most important factors related to heart health. The AHA has an entire section of their website dedicated to helping you manage stress levels.

Commit to quit if you still smoke. Yes, it’s easier said than done but there’s a lot riding on this risk factor. No matter how tough it is to quit smoking, it’s a lot harder to recover from a heart attack. The AHA has detailed help here too, with resources and ideas for making this one resolution that sticks.

Know the signs of a heart attack. Familiarity with the warning signs can save a life:

  • Chest discomfort. Any pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few moments, even if it stops and then comes back, can be a sign that something is wrong and you should seek help.
  • Upper body discomfort. Pay attention to pain or discomfort in your arms, back, neck, jaw or even your stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. Even if you don’t have discomfort, shortness of breath is an important warning sign, and one that you should never ignore.
  • Lightheadedness, nausea or cold sweats are other signs to be aware of.

When it comes to heart disease, every minute matters. Commit to heart-healthy choices and watch out for warning signs.

Source: American Heart Association

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