February is National Heart Month, so it’s a great time to make a change for better heart health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with stroke coming in fifth, according to the American Heart Association. Both of these conditions result when blood flow is reduced or stopped altogether. But there are steps people can take to reduce the risk.

Increasing age, gender and heredity cannot be changed, but other risk factors can be. A person at risk for heart disease can reduce the risk by:

  • Avoiding smoking
  • Being physically active every day
  • Choosing good nutrition
  • Reducing high cholesterol
  • Lowering high blood pressure
  • Aiming for a healthy weight
  • Managing diabetes
  • Reducing stress
  • Limiting alcohol

This laundry list of risk factors may seem overwhelming. The good news is that they interact in a positive way. In fact, the American Heart Association boils it down to three easy steps, the ABCs of heart health:

  • A — Avoid smoking
  • B — Be physically active
  • C — Choose good nutrition.

These steps may not seem so easy, but by making small steps in the right direction, it will be possible to live healthier and feel better. Choose a small change to make in each category. For example:

  • As a stress break at work, try skipping a cigarette and going for a short walk instead. Even 10 minutes at a time of walking may have health benefits.
  • Vow to skip french fries one day per week — make it fries-free Friday.
  • Go dancing with a friend to increase physical activity, which will also helps to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, get diabetes under better control and move toward a healthier weight. Plus, you’ll be having fun while you’re at it!
  • Investigate the calorie count of a favorite food and see if you can just eat one serving, or find a healthier option that is just as good.

The American Heart Association (click on Healthy Living at top left) has many ideas on how to make heart-healthy choices related to physical activity, stress management, weight management, quitting smoking, healthy kids (help them start early to form heart-healthy habits), workplace health and healthy eating (including a searchable recipe database and tips for healthy choices when dining out).

Most people are aware of healthier choices they could make to help prevent heart disease; now it’s time to actually make those changes. Challenge yourself to make two to three small changes, for your own sake and for those you care about. Or invite someone you care about who is at high risk for heart disease to join you in making those changes. Take one new small step toward better health each month and the benefits will accumulate, making the better choices add up quickly. Start today and enjoy a better, healthier tomorrow together.