World Heart Day is intended as a platform to raise awareness for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and to encourage all of us to live happier, healthier lifestyles. Heart disease kills over a half a million Americans annually and according to the CDC, is the single leading cause of death in this country. The financial cost are also high – one in every six dollars (according to the CDC’s foundation) is spent on heart disease. The good news is there are plenty of simple ways to live a healthy life and ensuring that your ticker stays in good shape well into your golden years.

The Not-So-Fun Facts About Cardiovascular Disease

Most heart problems, which include heart attacks, heart failure, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and heart valve diseases are caused by atherosclerosis, or an accumulation of plaque in the walls of your arteries. This plaque prevents healthy blood flow, and can cause strokes and a host of other problems that no one wants to live with. Heart health is critical as we age and is completely attainable with an active lifestyle and by following a smart, sensible diet.

Get Plenty of Exercise

You don’t have to run marathons to be healthy and fit. The American Heart Association recommends that you get about 30 minutes of  exercise every day, or about 150 minutes per week. Keep a chart or invest in a wearable fitness monitor to track your daily and weekly activity. Taking a 30-minute, moderately paced walk may not qualify you for the Boston Marathon, but it will get your heart pumping and your blood moving. Even better, aim for an hour a day to keep your body and your heart healthy.

Improve Your Overall Diet

Pizza a few times a month won’t kill you, but it probably will if you eat it every day. Foods high in saturated fats, processed carbohydrates and sodium (or, as in the case of pizza, all three) are detrimental to the heart. Cut down on red meat and increase your fiber intake so you’re getting as close possible to the recommended 25 grams per day. Try to avoid fried foods, sweet desserts and processed snacks. Eat foods rich in healthy omega 3 fatty acids like fish, nuts and extra virgin olive oil. Stop snacking late into the evening and drink plenty of fluids to help your body eliminate toxins.

Learn the Warning Signs of a Stroke or Heart Attack

Some of the signs of a heart attack are intense chest pains that come and go for several minutes at a time, severe shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, and breaking out in a cold sweat. For a stroke, memorize or write down the acronym F.A.S.T. and be on the lookout for face drooping, arm weakness, and speech difficulty. If you or someone you love is experiencing those symptoms, it’s “time” to call 911. If you’re ever worried about your heart and risk factors, call your doctor to schedule some testing.

Three Words: Quit Smoking Now

One of the riskiest activities that lead to atherosclerosis is smoking. The science on how bad smoking is for your healthy has been out for a long, long time. The American Lung Association has plenty of programs to help you quit. Even if you exercise and eat right, smoking could still lead to your having a heart attack or stroke. Figure out a way to put the smokes down for good. Your friends and family will thank you, as will your body.

Pay Attention to High Blood Pressure

If you have systolic and diastolic readings of over 120 and 80 respectively, it’s time to take action. You and your doctor need to start testing and monitoring your numbers regularly. It’s also likely time to lose some weight, increase your activity level and cut down on processed foods or cholesterol heavy burgers and fries.

Take better care of yourself and use World Heart Day as an opportunity to start the conversation with a physician. It could also be an opportunity to jumpstart a discussion about lifestyle improvements. There are plenty of resources online and in your community to point you in the right direction. Early prevention is what matters. Taking small steps to maintain your health now will pay massive dividends in the future.