Make cardiovascular health a top priority with these suggestions from the American Heart Association.

Take Care of Your Heart: 5 Tips for American Heart Awareness Month

All across the U.S., February is Heart Awareness Month, and thanks to the American Heart Association we have lots of good advice to follow for protecting our hearts. In fact, the AHA has put together a whole list of easy-to-follow tips that can help you decrease your risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease and recognize red flags when they arise.

1. Get Your Blood Pressure Checked

Your blood pressure reading tells you how hard your blood is pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps. When your arteries narrow or your heart weakens, your blood pressure goes up, increasing the risk to you heart. Unfortunately, high blood pressure, also called hypertension, has no signs or symptoms, so the only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to get tested. If you do have hypertension, there are many treatments that can help lower your risk of heart disease.

2. Know Your Cholesterol

Fats that accumulate in your bloodstream are known as cholesterol and when they build up in your arteries, they slow blood flow and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. A blood test can tell you your levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol), HDL (“good” cholesterol), total cholesterol and lipids.

3. Investigate Your Family History

Talk to your parents, grandparents, and other relatives about heart disease and stroke in your family tree. Having a first- or second-degree relative with heart disease increases your risk. (First-degree relatives are parents and siblings, second-degree relatives are aunts and uncles, grandparents, and others one step removed.) If you find out there’s a history of heart disease in your family, let your doctor know.

4. Don’t Smoke or Quit If You Do

If you started smoking as a teen or young adult, it’s high time you quit. (And it goes without saying, if you haven’t started yet, don’t.) The good news is that there are lots of great programs that can help you kick the habit once and for all. And beware the dangers of secondhand smoke, too; nonsmokers up their risk of heart disease or lung cancer by 30 percent if they’re exposed to secondhand smoke.

5. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight increases the risk for developing high blood pressure and can damage your blood vessels and put extra strain on your heart. But studies show that losing weight can reverse some of these effects; for example, one study found that losing just a few pounds resulted in lower blood pressure. Try these weight loss tips and speak to your physician about a doctor-approved weight loss program.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.