Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. dies from a heart-related event, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women throughout the country. February, also known as American Heart Month, focuses on spreading awareness of the prevention necessary to combat the risk of cardiovascular disease. Thankfully, there are a variety of manageable lifestyle changes people of all ages, races and health backgrounds can establish to improve heart health.

1. Get a Good Night’s Rest: Adults should get at least six to eight hours of quality sleep each night to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Too little or too much sleep can raise blood pressure, increase the release of stress hormones and weaken the immune system. Setting a “go-to-bed” alarm each night can be a reminder to turn off screens, wind down and begin the bedtime process to establish a healthy sleep routine.

2. Eat Healthier: Maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet is crucial in fighting the risk of heart disease. All individuals should limit their intake of excess empty calories, trans fats, sodium, red meat and sugary or processed foods. Consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish, nuts, lean proteins, and heart-healthy fats help the body function properly and maintain a healthy weight. Meal planning and batch cooking for the week ahead can make nutritious meals more convenient.

3. Exercise Regularly: Most adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise a week, along with two to three strength training sessions. A chronically sedentary lifestyle heightens the risk of heart disease by raising blood pressure, increasing stress and diminishing an individual’s overall mental and physical well-being over time. The American Heart Association suggests obese patients focus on diet, aerobic exercise and in some cases, medically-supervised weight loss programs. Keeping a workout routine interesting by incorporating new and fun forms of exercise helps combat burnout and lack of motivation.

4. Know your Family Medical History: Genetics is an uncontrollable risk factor that influences an individual’s risk of developing heart disease. Identify if family members have a history with high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke or other forms of cardiovascular disease. Statistics show African-Americans and Hispanics have an increased risk for high blood pressure, stroke and high cholesterol. Talk to family doctor for advice on how to limit these factors. 

5. Limit Stress: Though all people manage stress in different ways, the body reacts by releasing adrenaline causing the heart to beat faster and blood pressure to rise. Unfortunately, many choose to cope with stress by consuming alcohol, eating comfort foods or smoking, which only heightens the risk of heart disease. Regular exercise, proper rest and a healthy diet can all help reduce stress levels.

6. Quit Smoking: Smoking is the most preventable cause of early death in the United States and more than doubles the likelihood of a fatal heart attack. However, when an individual quits smoking, the lungs and body have the ability to progress and improve quickly. Just 20 minutes after smoking a cigarette, an individual’s heart rate and blood pressure drop. One year after quitting, the risk of coronary heart disease is about half that of a smoker’s. Kicking the habit also eliminates the risks loved ones may face due to secondhand smoke.

7. Visit the Doctor: Forming a close a relationship with a primary care doctor is a great way to assess the risk of heart disease and monitor existing conditions that may influence personal health goals. Annual visits and screenings are imperative to evaluate an individual’s risk of life-threatening cardiovascular events.