The season of love is finally here. As we prepare for Valentine’s Day by giving flowers and other symbols of affection, let’s remember to show our own tickers some tender love and care. As February also marks American Heart Month, we here at CMWL would like to remind everyone of just how important weight loss is to protecting your heart.

The leading cause of death in the United States for men and women is heart disease, and according to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease claims a life every 40 seconds. As scary as this statistic is to hear, the AHA says that 80 percent of all heart disease and stroke events are preventable. One of the most surefire ways to prevent heart disease and stroke is achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Excess body weight and fat pose a serious risk to heart health. Belly fat is especially dangerous because it produces hormones and other substances that can disrupt blood vessel activities and clog arteries. If the arteries can’t allow blood to flow throughout the body, the disruption will lead to a heart attack or stroke. Losing weight takes pressure off the heart and makes it easier to pump blood. In a study conducted by the American Heart Association, modest weight loss of 5 to 10 percent was associated with a significant decrease in serious cardiovascular disease risk factors after one year. Greater weight loss showed even better benefits.

We can improve our heart health and weight loss in many different ways. Here are a few simple things we can do:

Eat heart-friendly foods. We know that eating healthy foods and proper portion sizes will help us achieve weight loss, but some foods are better at others at giving the heart the good stuff. Unsaturated good fats like fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocados all work to improve cholesterol levels, which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Omega-3 fatty acids in particular have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease. The best sources of omega-3s are in fish and fish oil supplements. If you choose an omega-3 supplement, just be sure to do your homework on the many options on the market. An omega-3 supplement with high levels of purity is what you should be looking for.

Get your heart and blood pumping. Exercise can be just what the doctor ordered for improving heart health while also keeping your weight in check. After all, the heart is a muscle. Cardio exercises are perfect for strengthening the heart, lowering blood pressure, and burning extra calories. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by simply walking. A study from Berkley University found that brisk walking reduced the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and possibly coronary heart disease.

Reduce inflammation. Chronic low-grade inflammation increases your risk of chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease. You can improve your body’s inflammatory response by again, eating many of the heart-healthy foods mentioned above, as well as reducing or eliminating foods known to increase inflammation, like sugar and red and processed meats. Also, chronic stress is a major contributor to inflammation and heart disease. If you find yourself in a constant state of agitation or pressure, seek out solutions aimed at calming your mind. This can include activities like exercise, meditation, or cognitive therapy.

So this February, we encourage you to finally break up with the habits and behaviors that can break your heart so you can open up to the possibilities of those that make your heart full and light. Give yourself the love you deserve and hold onto it the whole year through.