This is the season to explore matters of the heart

February is American Heart Month, an annual reminder not to neglect the life-sustaining organ.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., underscoring the vital importance of heart-healthy living. Prioritizing your heart can help prevent severe illness and reduce the risk of COVID-19 complications. Lung damage caused by the virus prevents oxygen from reaching the heart muscle, which in turn damages the heart tissue and prevents it from getting oxygen to other tissues.

Self-care can keep our hearts healthy, and for most it doesn’t require major lifestyle adjustments. And when we take care of our hearts, we set an example for those around us to do the same.

The American Heart Association, Mayo Clinic, the Heart Foundation and the CDC also offer tips to lower the risk of heart-related medical issues.

• Be smoke free

Smoking doubles the risk of a heart attack and triples the risk of stroke.

• Manage cholesterol levels

High cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. Total cholesterol levels of less than 200 milligrams per deciliter are considered desirable for adults. A reading between 200 and 239 mg/dL is considered borderline high and a reading of 240 mg/dL and above is considered high.

• Manage blood pressure

Experiencing high blood pressure over a long period of time is one of the main risk factors for heart disease. A reading under 120/80 is considered optimal. Readings up to 129/80 are considered elevated, those of 130-139/80- 89 indicate Stage 1 hypertension and those of 140/90 or higher mark Stage 2 hypertension.

• Manage diabetes

Type 2 diabetes raises LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowers HDL (good) cholesterol, raising the risk for heart disease and stroke.

• Be physically active

A good starting goal is 150 minutes a week, with the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommending 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Find forms of exercise that are enjoyable and build more opportunities to be active in your daily routine.

• Enjoy a heart-healthy diet

Control portion size, eat more fruits and vegetables, select whole grains, limit unhealthy fats, choose low-fat protein sources, reduce sodium intake, create daily menus and allow an occasional treat to achieve a healthier diet.

• Look after your mental health

Those who have depression, are socially isolated or do not have good social supports can have a greater risk of heart disease.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute suggests this weekly regimen to stay on course.

• Kick off the week with Self-care Sunday by creating your health checklist for the week.

• Mindful Monday is the time to check your blood pressure numbers and other heart stats.

• Try a delicious, heart-healthy recipe on Tasty Tuesday.

• Put your heart into your fitness routine on Wellness Wednesday.

• On Treat Yourself Thursday, show your heart some relaxation and fun.

• Share who inspires you to show your heart more love on Follow Friday.

• Encourage friends on #SelfieSaturday by posting about a favorite heart-healthy practice.

So put your heart into heart health and reap the benefits!