If there’s a month when people pay extra special attention to hearts, it’s February. Of course, there’s the celebration of love and friendship for Valentine’s Day. And February is also American Heart Month, a time to think about and learn about the importance of cardiovascular health. Ready to show TLC to the hardest working muscle in your body? Here are some ideas and activities to get you started.

1. Learn the facts. Heart disease is a big concern for communities everywhere. In the United States, cardiovascular disease has been the leading cause of death since the 1950s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Certain health conditions can increase your risk for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. In addition, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle can put you at greater risk for developing cardiovascular problems.

2. Empower yourself. When you’re educated about the risks for heart disease, you can make healthy changes in your life to try and prevent it. Healthy habits to focus on include:

  • Quit smoking
  • Eat a healthier diet
  • Aim for 150 minutes of physical activity per week
  • Try to maintain a healthy weight

While each of those habits sound like big commitments, in fact, they’re all interrelated. If you quit smoking, for example, you may gain more energy to work out. And when you’re working out more, you’ll find that a healthier diet helps fuel those heart-pumping sessions. When you eat better and move more, it helps you get closer to your healthy weight goal.

3. Find ways to make healthy habits easy. While there’s no shortcut to better health, there are gifts you can give yourself to make healthy living more convenient. If you want to improve your eating habits, for example, make sure you have plenty of on-the-go snack options at your fingertips, like nuts, yogurt, fruits and vegetables, string cheese, popcorn and other favorites (see more healthy snack ideas here). If you want to make working out more fun, find a class, group sport or workout buddy who can make exercise a social activity. If you don’t have time to work out, think of ways that you can seamlessly blend more movement into your day, like biking to the store or work, or replacing after-dinner screentime with a walk.

4. Educate yourself on the signs of a heart attack and stroke. When you know the signs to look for you, you could save a life—including your own. The American Heart Association (AHA) shares a comprehensive list of warning signs that should prompt you to call 911. Here’s a brief summary of that list:  

Heart attack:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Discomfort in other areas of the body (arms, back, neck, jaw, stomach)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea, cold sweat, lightheadedness


  • Known by the acronym “FAST” the signs include:
    • Face drooping
    • Arm weakness
    • Speech difficulty
    • (Time to call 911)

It’s also important to keep in mind that women and men can experience and exhibit different symptoms when having a stroke or heart attack. When women are having a stroke, they may also have general weakness, disorientation/confusion/memory problems, fatigue and/or nausea and vomiting. With a heart attack, a woman might not experience chest pain, or the chest-clutching “Hollywood” heart attack symptoms that one might expect. Rather, the signs may be more subtle and even dismissed, and include shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, pain in the jaw or back, according to AHA.

5. Plan a heart-healthy date. Whether it’s Valentine’s Day or any other day, make a date with a friend or loved one that mixes fun with wellness. Sign up for a healthy cooking class, or try a new recipe on your own. Head outdoors for a hike or walk. Take a dance class together, or learn a new dance at home by watching a video. Try rock climbing at a local gym. The world is your oyster (which, by the way, would also make for a healthy date-night meal).

6. Schedule your annual check-up. Do your heart health the biggest favor and make an appointment for a physical this month. During the appointment, you’ll learn about your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and other important numbers that can give your primary care provider insights into your health. He or she can detect any problems, and offer personalized advice to help you feel your best.

7. Make an appointment for a dental cleaning. People who have gum disease are significantly more likely to have a heart attack, stroke or cardiovascular event, according to Harvard Medical School. While the connection isn’t fully understood, the statistics serve as a reminder of the connection between dental health and overall health. Be sure to stay on top of your oral hygiene. See your dentist regularly and keep up the brushing and flossing routines.

8. Take a CPR class. When you take a CPR class, you can be better prepared in case of an emergency. By enrolling in a class given by a non-profit organization, like the American Red Cross, you can learn how to confidently provide CPR to children, infants and adults. The organization offers online, in-person and hybrid classes, so you can choose the best fit for your schedule. Just a few hours of training could make an enormous impact on someone’s life in a crisis.

9. De-stress. It’s easier said than done, we know. But you’ll be doing your ticker a favor if you make time to unwind. According to the CDC, prolonged experiences of depression, anxiety, stress and PTSD may lead to an increased heart and blood pressure, reduced blood flow to the heart and heightened levels of cortisol in the system. Weave stress-relieving activities into your routine, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation and yoga. And remember, fun activities can also help decrease stress, too, like spending time with your friends, taking a walk with your partner, snuggling with your dog or cat and, of course, laughing.

Every second of every day, your heart takes care of you. Take this opportunity to show your entire cardiovascular system gratitude and love. Small actions can go a long way, when you take them to heart!