February is American Heart Month. Over the past 10 years, the death rate from heart disease has fallen about 39 percent. This is important to everyone, but especially seniors.

There are many factors you can’t control, such as age, gender, race and family history, but there are still many risk factors that you can influence.

Monitoring your cholesterol levels is important, especially your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. There are steps you can take to improve your cholesterol levels, such as limiting fats by eating food low in saturated fats, trans-fats and cholesterol. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk and cheese.

You also should take steps to help prevent and manage diabetes. Have your blood glucose checked regularly. Someone with diabetes is considered to be as much at risk as someone who has already had a heart attack.

A healthy diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It is recommended that we follow a diet that includes more fruits, vegetables and fiber, and less fats, meats and added sugars.

Eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids found in fish (especially salmon, trout, herring, tuna and sardines) and olive oil. These fats help prevent blood clots.

Finally, eat high-fiber food found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables such as beans, brown rice, nuts, oatmeal, bran cereal and berries.

Get more physical activity. You don’t have to be an athlete to lower your risk of heart disease. Forty minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise three to four times a week is sufficient for most people. Even brisk walking will do. Start slowly and consult your doctor before you start a new exercise program.

Maintain a healthy weight by cutting back your calorie intake, being more physically active, eating smaller portions and avoiding empty calories that come from soda, candy and other sweets.

Control your blood pressure by losing weight if you are overweight, exercise more, reduce salt intake, quit smoking, limit alcohol and reduce stress. Per the AARP, most people associate smoking with lung disease, but smoking is possibly even more destructive as a cause of heart disease.

Even with lifestyle changes, you might still need to work with your physician to control your blood pressure, cholesterol levels or other heart disease risk factors by taking prescription drugs. If so, it is important that you take your medicine as prescribed, and you should still try to follow a healthy lifestyle.

In summary, you can take steps to have a healthy heart. Know your risks, eat healthy, get active, be prepared and make changes to improve your heart health.

James Wogsland is a Certified Senior Adviser and owner of ComForCare Home Care. JWogsland@ ComForCare.com; www..HiltonHead. ComForCare.com