A healthy heart ensures love will go on

February is a month dedicated to matters of the heart.

For many, that meant making sure a special someone received a card and flowers on Tuesday.

But February is also American Heart Month, a time to brush up on the signs of a heart attack and the steps necessary to avoid one.

Heart attack symptoms include chest and/or upper body (arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach) discomfort and shortness of breath, according to the American Heart Association. Other signs can include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness. If these warning signs are present, call 911.

Fortunately there are steps we all can take to lower our risk of a heart attack. UChicago Medicine Advent Health Hinsdale Hospital offers the following tips for a healthy heart.

• Don’t smoke, as smoking doubles your heart attack risk.

• Eat a balanced diet: Foods low in cholesterol, saturated fat, salt and refined sugars and high in fiber, vitamins and minerals will help you maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure and weight.

• Exercise: At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity spread throughout the week is recommended.

• Know your numbers: A normal heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. An ideal blood pressure is within the range of less than 120 for systolic (highest reading) and less than 80 for diastolic (lowest reading), which reads as 120/80. Most doctors consider anything above 140/90 as high blood pressure, and below 90/60 as low blood pressure.

• Manage stress: Exercise, meditate, pray, talk to friends or a counselor or spend time doing what you love. Find what works for you.

Changing your diet to a more heart-healthy one can begin with five positive changes, according to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

The center offers these five simple tips:

1. Add — don’t subtract. Instead of trying to go cold turkey by removing all treats from your diet, start by adding a few fruits and vegetables to your plate at each meal.

2. Change your source of protein. Substitute chicken, fish, or beans for red meat at most meals. If you do eat red meat once or twice a week, try to opt for lean cuts such as sirloin.

3. Choose healthier fast-food options. Order a salad or grilled item over anything fried. At Mexican fast-food chains, opt for veggie-filled bowls with cauliflower or brown rice instead of white rice.

4. Cook with olive oil instead of butter. Both substances are made of fat, but extra virgin olive oil has much less saturated fat.

5. Replace cold breakfast cereal with oatmeal. Most cold cereals are full of sugar — and not much else. Oatmeal is a whole grain that can help lower cholesterol.

Plus, it’s full of fiber, which can help you feel fuller much longer than refined grains found in many cereals.

The same approach can be taken with exercise, by building movement into chores, exercising during errands, moving while watching TV, playing more and walking during your lunch break.

Heart health isn’t the most romantic subject. But the best thing you can do for your sweetheart this or any month is to make sure you have a long, healthy life to enjoy together.