February is American Heart Month, which aims to raise awareness and increase education on heart health, including heart disease. You may be surprised to hear that heart disease poses a serious risk to women, not just men. In fact, the American Heart Association has stated that one in three women will die of heart disease or stroke this year.This statistic is incredibly sobering, especially when you consider that 80% of cardiac events can be prevented with lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, in addition to better management of existing health issues such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

Women are used to hearing from their doctors that they need to be aware of breast health (self breast- exams), sexual health (STD testing and treatment), and even bone health – but heart health can sometimes take a backseat. When it occurs, this lack of attention is remarkable since heart disease is increasingly prevalent in women. Fortunately, despite sobering statistics, there are steps you can take to make a real and lasting impact on the health of your heart and to decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Diet and exercise are your new top priority.

  • What you eat and how active you are determines a great deal of your current and future health. Poor diet and little daily exercise will affect your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, risk of diabetes and more. You do not need to introduce dramatic changes to your daily routine immediately, but small improvements can have a big impact – especially when new, healthier routines are consistent.

If you needed a new reason to quit smoking, this is it.

  • Those who smoke are no stranger to hearing about the havoc that tobacco can wreak on the human body. Your first thought about the danger of cigarettes probably veers toward cancer, and although this is justified, your heart is also easily harmed as well. Heart disease and stroke are two of the top risks associated with tobacco use.

Keep an eye on stress.

  • High levels of stress over time can impart long-term damage to your body. Your heart is easily affected by feelings of anxiety, depression and fear. Stress can also arise as a result of abnormal eating and sleeping patterns, or physical and mental tension. Many physicians recommend that patients who struggle with stress find an outlet to relieve their anxiety in a healthy manner, such as communication with family and friends, physical activity, and practicing better organizational habits.