February is American Heart Month. These 27 days provide another reminder as to why now is the time to re-energize with long lasting life changes. As a family physician I see how heart disease affects so many people and their families. According to the CDC, nearly 44% of African American men and 48% of African American women have some form of cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke.
While heart disease affects many of us in the African American community, it can be a preventable disease if you know the major risks factors and work towards making balanced choices in your life. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes mellitus, increased cholesterol, obesity, history of smoking and a family history of cardiovascular disease. With the exception for family history of heart disease or stroke, there are steps you can take against these risks, which is why I speak to my patients about prevention.
For the factors that can be controlled, there are three key preventative measures: exercise, keeping balanced nutrition and getting plenty of sleep. 
Revive your exercise routine:  Keep in mind, if the gym membership resolution has not been working for you there are other ways to keep active. Interval training – alternating between bursts of increased activity and a decreased pace is one of the most effective forms of exercise for cardiovascular health and weight lose. My favorite place to do interval training is on the boardwalk, but neighborhood streets work well, too.  I will alternate a faster pace for 100 ft. (I use about four light posts as a guide) and jog for one light pace for at least 20 – 30 minutes. With interval training you can run, walk or dance for a shorter period of time and burn more calories. It’s great for those of us with busy schedules. Dance to your favorite playlist by yourself or with a partner, and break a sweat!  Look for activities to get the whole family involved – plan to do a local 5K or bike ride in the spring, or get your exercise in while your child is practicing their favorite sport.
Make A Meal Plan: Moderation is key!  Thinking ahead for meals can go a long way. I consider breakfast as the most important meal of the day. Start off your day with a bowl of oatmeal with cranberries and nuts followed by an eight-ounce glass of water which aids in digestion.
Many of us work long hours and get home late, so whenever possible make lunch your largest meal of the day. Prepare your plate to be 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 whole grains and 1/4 lean proteins. Enjoy some steamed fish, baked chicken, turkey, beans or quinoa. No one is perfect; it is about making balanced choices most of the time. But elimination is not the answer; it is good to include some of your favorite things in moderation. Look for portion-controlled options that can help you do that like a mini can of soda or a small piece of dark chocolate.
If you have diabetes always remember to take your medicine on a regular basis and to eat three to four smaller meals per day in order to help regulate your glucose throughout the day. Pack healthy 100 – 200 calorie snacks such as walnuts, almonds or a piece of fruit or a handful of grape tomatoes.  
Sleep it Off: Recent studies have shown the importance of getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep not only for the purpose of resting your body, but also for stimulating weight loss. For those who are overweight, a weight loss of 5 – 10% of your body weight will help to regulate your blood sugar, decrease your blood pressure and keep you on track.
Small changes today can go a long way in avoiding the risks of heart disease, so this month celebrate your heritage and your heart and do better for yourself and your family.
 Dr. Michele Claudette Reed is a Board Certified Family Medicine Physician and serves as a consultant for The Coca-Cola Company.