Tips to make February a month to love your heart

Dr. Allen Taylor, Chief of Cardiology with MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute. (Courtesy MedStar Heart and Vascular Institute)
Dr. Allen Taylor, chief of cardiology with MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute, outlines heart health tips to keep in mind this Heart Month. (Courtesy MedStar Heart and Vascular Institute) (Courtesy MedStar Heart and Vascular Institute)
Called crepitus, this crackling can freak out anyone who doesn't want to destroy his or her knees, or perhaps has some existing knee issues like runner's knee, IT Band syndrome or osteoarthritis to contend with. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
1. Make time for exercise: Exercising 30 to 60 minutes on most days will cut your heart risk in half. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) (Getty Images/Spencer Platt)
Take charge of your health: That is especially important when it comes to protecting your heart, according to Dr. Warren Levy, Chief Medical Officer at Virginia Heart.  He says smokers need to stop, diabetics need to be aggressive about controlling their blood sugar levels, and we all need to keep tabs on our cholesterol and blood pressure numbers. "By reducing these risk factors you can make a significant impact on improving your health and reduce your risk of heart disease," Levy says.
2. Know your heart disease risk:  Calculate your risk by plugging your numbers into an online calculator.
Man Having Chest Pains
3. Never ignore your chest pain: Pain can be felt anywhere in the chest area, arms, your back and neck. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/pixelheadphoto) (Getty Images/iStockphoto/pixelheadphoto)
Taking blood pressure of patient
4. Check your blood pressure: Let the healthy blood pressure number be below 140/90. Both numbers matter. (Getty Images/Brand X/Brand X Pictures) (Getty Images/Brand X/Brand X Pictures)
Cigarette, Smoke, Ashtray
5. No smoking: Don’t smoke, and ask your loved ones to quit. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) (AP)
A new study shows a simple aspirin may cut the risk of death for men diagnosed with prostrate cancer. (Getty Images)
6. Aspirin: Should you take aspirin? Yes, if you already do — but ask your doctor. (Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - AUGUST 14:  Athletes compete in the Men's 50km Race Walk final during Day Five of the 14th IAAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013 at Luzhniki Stadium on August 14, 2013 in Moscow, Russia.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
7. Moderate exercise: How do you know whether you are exercising moderately? You should able to carry a light conversation. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images) (Getty Images/Paul Gilham)
Stressed business man
8. Stress: Is stress bad for your heart? Yes, no matter the source. Learn to control your stress to prevent heart disease. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/PIKSEL) (Getty Images/iStockphoto/PIKSEL)
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Dr. Allen Taylor, Chief of Cardiology with MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute. (Courtesy MedStar Heart and Vascular Institute)
Called crepitus, this crackling can freak out anyone who doesn't want to destroy his or her knees, or perhaps has some existing knee issues like runner's knee, IT Band syndrome or osteoarthritis to contend with. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Take charge of your health: That is especially important when it comes to protecting your heart, according to Dr. Warren Levy, Chief Medical Officer at Virginia Heart.  He says smokers need to stop, diabetics need to be aggressive about controlling their blood sugar levels, and we all need to keep tabs on our cholesterol and blood pressure numbers. "By reducing these risk factors you can make a significant impact on improving your health and reduce your risk of heart disease," Levy says.
Man Having Chest Pains
Taking blood pressure of patient
Cigarette, Smoke, Ashtray
A new study shows a simple aspirin may cut the risk of death for men diagnosed with prostrate cancer. (Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - AUGUST 14:  Athletes compete in the Men's 50km Race Walk final during Day Five of the 14th IAAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013 at Luzhniki Stadium on August 14, 2013 in Moscow, Russia.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Stressed business man

WASHINGTON — February is a month devoted to matters of the heart.

There’s Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14, of course — but this is also Heart Month, dedicated to raising awareness of heart health.

Heart disease remains the biggest killer in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 610,000 Americans die of it each year — that’s one in every four deaths.

But there is reason for hope. The American Heart Association says that from 2003 to 2013, the death rate from heart disease fell about 38 percent, though the number remains alarmingly high.

And with that drop has come a shift: Fewer patients are developing artery problems, and the focus of innovation is moving more toward helping those with issues related to the heart muscle itself, such as heart failure and faulty valves.

“It is an exciting time — there is so much innovation that is going on that is going to help patients,”  says Dr. Allen Taylor, chief of cardiology at the MedStar Heart and Vascular Institute.

He says cholesterol-busting statins and campaigns against smoking have gone a long way to reduce the number of patients with bad arteries, and now big change is coming to treatment of the heart muscle itself.

One of the biggest innovations is the evolution of less invasive surgical techniques. Taylor points to the advent of minimally invasive heart valve replacements — a huge shift from the open heart surgery that has long been the norm.

“Where we are now is you can come in and get a new heart valve and go home in two days,” he says, calling that “an amazing advance.”

Taylor — a self-professed tech geek — is also impressed by the power of information technology to transform cardiology.

“You have seen this nexus of information for patients, electronic health records, digital imaging — everything coming together to bring information to your fingertips at all times,” he says. “That’s good for patients, good for doctors and good for health care.”

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