Hearts are not just for Valentine’s Day … February is also American Heart Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 715,000 Americans suffer from a heart attack and about 600,000 die from heart disease every year. Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in this country.As a general rule, heart disease doesn’t happen overnight. The most common form of heart disease — Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)– happens when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. The good news is that there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of heart disease. It’s far easier to prevent heart disease from happening in the first place than it is to treat it. Here are some tips for avoiding a “broken heart:”

Eat a heart-healthy diet. Eat a diet low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and sodium, and increase your intake of fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Watch your portion sizes. Avoid processed, fried and fast-foods. If this sounds too daunting, at least start by cutting back on your fat intake and increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Stop smoking! Smoking is bad for almost every part of you, but it’s particularly bad for your heart because it causes it to have to work harder. Nicotine narrows your blood vessels and increases your heart rate and blood pressure, and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke  replaces some oxygen in the blood, raising blood pressure and forcing your heart to work harder to pump blood. The good news? The minute you stop smoking you lower your risk of heart disease, and the risk drops dramatically within just one year. So make the choice to stop now.

Maintain a healthy weight. This is good advice for your health in general. Excess weight leads to conditions that increase the risk of heart disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Head this disease off at the pass by maintaining a healthy weight. Are you in the right weight range? Use a Body Mass Index calculator to find out — you can find one here. Another way to tell if you’re maintaining a healthy weight is to measure your waist. Men are considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches; women are considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches.

Exercise. Experts suggest that regular daily exercise can reduce the risk of fatal heart disease. They recommend 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise, most days of the week. But ANY amount of exercise provides health benefits, so if you can’t commit that much time, just do what you can. And remember that walking, gardening and housework all count as exercise. Simple steps, like parking farther away from your destination, or taking the stairs rather than the elevator, can help you add exercise to your day in an easy way.

Get regular health screenings. Certain conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, can dramatically increase your risk of heart disease by causing damage to your heart and blood vessels. You should be regularly screened by your physician for these conditions, since managing them is the key to staying heart-healthy.

Manage chronic diseases. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, it is essential that you take your medications as directed, in order to prevent damage to your heart. Because there are few noticeable symptoms of these conditions, people sometimes feel that they can be ignored. They can’t. There is a high correlation between uncontrolled diabetes and heart attack.

Drink alcohol only in moderation. Too much alcohol can increase blood pressure, thus putting a strain on your heart. Stick to no more than one drink a day for women, two for men. A compound in red wine, called resveratrol, shows some promise in protecting the heart, so consider a glass of wine rather than hard liquor.

Taking care of yourself now can mean less problems down the road. Coronary CT Angiography (CCTA) is a test which allows doctors to check for narrowed arteries in the heart that can put you at risk for a heart attack. Cardiac MRI is an MRI scan of the heart and blood vessels, and provides 3-dimensional pictures, as well as moving video pictures of the heart beating and blood flowing through the chambers and valves.

At Zwanger-Pesiri Radiology, we care about our patients as people and wish you a heart-healthy February and beyond.