February isn’t just about candy hearts it’s also American Heart Month. Every year in February, the American Heart Association encourages people to improve their heart health. Heart and vascular problems are the leading causes of death worldwide, but most of these events are preventable. 

Here are 5 habits you can start today that will keep your heart going into the future:

1. Be Active

Your heart is a muscle, and like all muscles, exercise keeps it strong. A strong heart can do its job easier. Regularly raising your heart rate with exercise will improve your energy and stamina because your heart and lungs will more efficiently oxygenate your blood. 

Every adult should aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity. “Moderate intensity” means an activity that raises your breathing and heart rate but isn’t so strenuous that you can’t talk. 150 minutes a week breaks down to about 21 minutes per day or 50 minutes three times a week. Activities like cycling, swimming, brisk walking, or going up stairs count as moderate-level exercise.

 Higher intensity exercises like running or a high-intensity interval workout (HIIT) raise your heart level even more. Try replacing 23 minutes of your moderate intensity workout with a higher intensity workout to optimize your heart health. Ask your doctor before you start an exercise program, especially if you’ve had heart problems in the past. He or she can help you know where to start and how to progress safely. 

If chronic pain is making it difficult for you to be active, there are effective treatments available. Chiropractors offer several FDA-approved, proven treatments for chronic pain caused by disc problems, repetitive use injuries, and other musculoskeletal issues. These treatments can reduce your pain and your need for pain medication and help you get back to being active.

2. Stop Smoking

Most people know that smoking causes cancer and lung damage, but did you know it also hurts your heart? Smoking tightens major arteries, increases blood pressure, and can cause an irregular heart rhythm. All of these problems put you at a greater risk for stroke. Smokers are also more likely to have high cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease. Even secondhand smoke makes non-smokers 20-30% more likely to have a stroke. 

Quitting isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth it. Talk to your doctor about new ways to stop smoking. Support groups, nicotine patches, and even prescription medications are available to make quitting easier. Many addiction specialists recommend replacing the habit of smoking with a new healthier habit. If you smoke to deal with stress, counseling might help. Exercise is also a great stress reliever. Replacing smoking with exercise will help your heart in two ways at once. 

3. Take Care of Your Teeth

Oral health is closely linked with heart health. Periodontal disease is associated with a greater risk of heart disease. Poor dental health increases your risk of bloodstream infections, which can damage heart valves. 

Those who already have heart problems or have had heart surgery are especially at risk from oral health problems. An already stressed heart is more prone to a type of infection that certain oral bacteria can cause. If you have had a heart problem or surgery, you may need to take antibiotics before you get your teeth cleaned. 

You can maintain good oral health by brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing once a day, and going in for regular cleanings. If you can’t afford dental care, look into low-cost and free programs in your area. Dental schools will sometimes provide affordable dental care performed by students who are overseen by licensed dentists.

4. Improve Your Diet

A healthy diet is vital for heart health. The Mediterranean diet, which includes high amounts of omega 3’s, lots of vegetables, and small amounts of red meat, is associated with decreased risk factors for heart disease. You can eat this diet no matter where you live by using more olive oil instead of butter or other solid fats in your cooking and replacing red meat with poultry, fish, or plant-based protein. 

This diet is heart-healthy because the fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provide plenty of nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. Fiber lowers cholesterol and can help you maintain a healthy weight. The good fats found in fish and olive oil also lower bad cholesterol and decrease inflammation.

 Cooking with plenty of herbs and spices reduces the need for salt. Salt is acceptable in moderation, but high amounts of it can encourage high blood pressure. Avoiding packaged, processed foods is an excellent way to decrease your intake of excess sodium, bad fats, and other chemicals that may harm your health. 

Even healthy food can be harmful in excess. Use an online calorie calculator to see how many calories you need per day, and then do your best to eat within those limits. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do for your heart. 

5. Manage Your Stress

Stress can trigger inflammation in your body, which increases your risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and blood flow issues. Stress also tends to cause behavioral problems that put your heart at risk, such as overeating, smoking, or spending too much time on the couch. 

Stress is unavoidable, but there are positive ways to deal with stress and mitigate its harmful effects. Self-care doesn’t just mean soaking in a bath surrounded by scented candles. Taking time out for yourself is essential to do on occasion, but positive social interaction is also a great way to reduce stress. Exercising, hobbies and naps are also useful.

 Different people need different things. Find what works for you and try to make it a habit. Even a few minutes every day doing something you enjoy can be good for your mental and physical health. If stress is causing you to feel anxious or depressed, or if you need more tips on how to cope, consider seeing a therapist. The brain and the heart seem to be linked in ways that doctors don’t yet fully understand. By taking care of your mental health, you can also improve your heart health and overall wellbeing.