February is American Heart Month and it’s an ideal time to focus on our hearts and encourage loved ones to make healthy lifestyle choices. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States: about 610,000 people die of heart disease each year – that represents 1 in 4 deaths. (source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Seniors have a significantly higher risk of developing heart disease than anyone else. On top of that, record growth in the 65+ year-old population is expected over the coming decades. Unless we start improving our health when we’re younger, this growth will significantly increase the amount of coronary heart disease cases in the country. Coronary heart disease, which occurs as the arteries delivering blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked, is the most common type of heart disease and remains a leading cause of heart attacks among seniors. (source: National Center for Biotechnology Information)

By making small dietary and lifestyle changes, heart health can be improved and risks for cardiovascular disease can be lowered. Here are 5 tips to get you on the road to better heart heath:

1. Eat Healthy Proteins. Consume more fish and poultry, and less red meat. Always trim and visible fat/skin. Also, bake, broil, grill or steam food instead of frying it.

2. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables. Select from a variety of brightly colored fruits and veggies to create a diet that’s enriched with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.

3. Cut Sodium Intake. Most Americans consume way too much sodium each day. Decreasing daily sodium intake will result in myriad health benefits.

4. Drink More Fluids. Adequate fluid intake of water or beverages without empty calories is necessary for hydration.

5. Increase Exercise. Increase activity level whenever possible to reduce the risk of chronic disease. That will be especially beneficial as people grow older.

And above all, please consult with your physician if you have questions pertaining to heart disease or your overall medical condition.

Deborah Guerrero, RD is a dietitian specialist at On Lok Lifeways in San Francisco.