February is American Heart Month. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in American society today—in 2006, 81 million Americans had one or more forms of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke or heart failure. That same year, over 831,000 of those suffering from cardiovascular disease died.

What can we do to stop heart disease? Even on a personal level, it seems daunting—how do we undo years’ worth of too many sweets, too many fats, too many days spent inside on the sofa instead of out in the world? How can you make your heart a healthy heart?

The good news is, you don’t need to completely revamp your lifestyle to get a healthy heart and cut your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Here are three easy steps you can incorporate into the life you already live that will do just that—without requiring too much of a sacrifice.

  1. Go for a walk. You don’t have to purchase an expensive gym membership or pick up a fad exercise class, and you don’t need to load up on confusing exercise equipment. All you need to do is tie on a pair of sneakers and walk—just half an hour a day can cut your risk of developing heart disease!
    For added encouragement, tips and information, explore the American Heart Association’s Start! program, which encourages Americans to get out and stretch your legs while improving your health.
  2. Pay attention to what you put on your plate. Eating a healthy diet doesn’t necessarily mean giving up all the tasty treats that we enjoy, and it doesn’t mean cutting out all fat and sugar. Try making heart-healthy substitutions—for instance, go for fats and oils that are in liquid form, rather than solid form. Solids—like stick butter—tend to be full of bad fats, the saturated and trans fats, while liquids—like vegetable oil—are usually monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can not only help lower your bad LDL cholesterol but also give you omega-3 and omega-6 oils.
  3. Take a deep breath. Stress can contribute to the development or exacerbation of cardiovascular disease—so relax! Eliminating stress may sound easier said than done, but there are some easy ways to do it. Watch your favorite comedy—laughter is an instant stress-reducer—or go for a walk with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Use to-do lists and prioritize tasks to reduce anxiety, and go to bed early to get that good night’s sleep. Giving up alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can also bring your stress levels down—and improve your physical health at the same time.

For more information on how to keep your heart healthy, visit the American Heart Association’s site at www.heart.org.