During the month of February, we think of the heart as an object at the center of our affections, as we celebrate Valentine’s Day. February is also recognized as American Heart Health Month, a time that we focus on the physical health of the heart.

Despite advances in medicine and surgical inventions, heart disease is still the number one cause of death in both men and women, resulting in one of every four deaths annually. It is widely acknowledged that many of the contributing factors are lifestyle-related. You can minimize your risk for heart disease by making healthy choices. Here are six ways to lower your risk of heart disease.

#1 Watch Your Weight

Being overweight, especially if you carry extra weight in your midsection, increases your risk of heart disease. One of the simplest test for heart disease involves measuring waist girth. A waist measure of more than 35 inches in women and greater than 40 inches in men shows an increase in heart disease risk.

#2 Quit Smoking & Avoid Second-Hand Smoke

Smoking increases your heart attack risk because it causes a thickening and narrowing of the blood vessels, increases the buildup of plaque in the arteries, and makes the blood sticky and more likely to clot. At the same time, it increases triglycerides – a type of fat, while raising LDL or “bad” cholesterol, and lowering HDL or “good” cholesterol. One third of heart disease deaths are linked to smoking.

#3 Control your Cholesterol & Blood Pressure

These are two of the key markers for heart health, and are usually tested as part of an annual health screening. Keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol within normal levels can considerably reduce your risk of heart disease. The revised level for normal blood pressure is less than 130/80, and for cholesterol a desirable reading is a total less than 200, and LDL under 100.

#4 Drink in Moderation

Alcohol increases your risk of heart disease and heart attack by raising blood pressure, causing hardening of the arteries and decreasing the amount of oxygen that your blood can carry. The CDC recommendation for alcohol consumption for women no more than one drink a day and for men, no more than two.

#5 Eat Healthy

A healthy diet is one that is high in whole grains, includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, while maintaining a low level of saturated fats, sodium and processed sugars.

#6 Get Active

Exercise is one of the most important tools in the battle against heart disease and obesity. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that all adults get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days.

Adopting these simple lifestyle changes can go a long way to reducing not only your risk of heart disease, but several other chronic illnesses which can hinder your ability to live life to the fullest.

Oris Martin is the Fitness Director at Edgewater at Boca Pointe, an Acts Retirement-Life Community in Boca Raton, Florida. This column appeared in the February 2018 edition of the Viewpointe at Boca Pointe.