February is American Heart Month.

Eat plenty of fiber and good fats. Research shows inflamed arteries may be as big a risk factor for heart disease as cholesterol. A high-fiber diet with plenty of beneficial fats can help! Good sources of fiber include fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and vegetables. Best of all: the soluble fiber from barley, beans, and oats. As for fats, choose high-omega-3, but low-mercury fish such as salmon, sardines, and trout, and vegetable oils such as canola, olive, safflower, and soybean. Stay away from trans fats, which move cholesterol numbers in the wrong direction.

Lay off cholesterol and salt. Cutting back on salt could reduce your risk of a heart attack by 25% or more. To avoid high levels of LDL – or “bad” cholesterol, consume less than 200 milligrams of cholesterol a day – the amount in one egg, or 10 ounces of lean sirloin. Your goal should be less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day, which is about a teaspoon of salt.

Exercise and eat healthy. A waistline of more than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women can have a number of health consequences. Extra weight raises blood pressure, adversely affects blood lipids, causes insulin resistance and produces substances that inflame the arteries. Only a combination of diet and exercise will reduce health risks! Thirty minutes of brisk walking five days a week or 20 minutes of vigorous activity three times a week is all it takes! If over age 45, be sure to check with your doctor first!

Know your symptoms. Men and women can experience different symptoms. Chest pain and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms of heart attacks, but pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back, feeling weak, lightheaded or faint can be a symptom as well.

As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain. Common symptoms for women include side chest pain, excessive or unusual fatigue, indigestion, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, profuse sweating, or pain between your shoulder blades.

More than 60% of men who suffer a heart attack experience symptoms before the actual heart attack. Symptoms for men include chest pain, pain in other areas of the body, shortness of breath, sweating, fainting, nausea and vomiting, lightheadedness, anxiety and indigestion

If you experience any of those symptoms, call 911. Getting treatment within an hour can greatly increase your chances of a good recovery.