February is American Heart Month, and Zachary’s Americana YMCA urges area residents to take steps to ensure they are heart healthy so they can lead longer, healthier lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the nation’s No. 1 killer, responsible for one in four deaths each year in the U.S., according to a news release.

The YMCA offers community-based healthy living and chronic disease prevention initiatives that support people in changing their lifestyles, that encourage organizations and communities to adopt behaviors that promote healthy living, and that promote the public’s health through advocacy, the release said.

The YMCA has made a national commitment to the Million Hearts campaign, an initiative spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CDC and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that aims to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes.

The YMCA is developing a new national program that will help people with hypertension lower their blood pressure through coaching support and self-monitoring practice, the release said.

Research shows that checking and recording blood pressure at least twice a month over a four-month period, along with regular physical activity, proper nutrition and reducing sodium intake, may lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure, the release said.

“Heart disease is a critical issue for everyone in our community, and it’s never too late to get heart healthy,” said Kristen Hogan, marketing director of the YMCA of the Capital Area. “Organizations like the Y have numerous options that can get you on the right path to avoid this preventable condition.”

Also part of the Y’s commitment to Million Hearts is increasing the availability of the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, which is part of the CDC-led National Diabetes Prevention Program.

The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program helps adults at high risk for developing Type 2 diabetes adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles to help reduce their chances of developing the disease, according to the release.

Type 2 diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and people with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease or suffer a stroke as those who do not have it, the release stated.

The Americana Y is now offering the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program to the Zachary community, Hogan said.

“The program provides a supportive environment where participants work together in a small group to learn about eating healthier, increasing their physical activity and making other behavior changes with the goal of reducing body weight by 7 percent in order to reduce their risk for developing diabetes,” Hogan said.

A trained lifestyle coach leads the program over a 12-month period beginning with 16 weekly sessions followed by monthly maintenance sessions. Increased physical activity and moderate weight loss not only reduce diabetes risk but also have an impact on lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, according to the YMCA.

The YMCA offers the following tips on how to live heart healthy:

GET PHYSICAL: Being physically active every day is fun and can improve the function of your heart. Plan and schedule opportunities for active play such as including a brisk 10-minute trip around the block after meals or a 10-minute walking break during the day. “If your family enjoys active video games, select versions that require moving the body’s large muscle groups while playing,” Hogan said.

TAKE A SNOOZE: Lack of sleep has been associated with elevated cholesterol and blood pressure. Adults need at least seven but no more than nine hours of sleep at night to aid with the prevention of heart disease. Children need 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night. Develop bedtime routines for the whole family to assist with falling asleep faster and staying asleep.

SHAPE UP THOSE RECIPES: Makeover family-favorite recipes by reducing the amount of salt and saturated fat and substituting a lower-fat food without sacrificing tastes. For example, use low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream and skip the seasoning packet and use pepper and olive oil instead. Read food labels to learn more about what is in the package and select foods that have less than 1,000 milligrams of sodium per serving.

FEELING THE PRESSURE: According to the American Heart Association, lowering or maintaining normal blood pressure can greatly reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. Nearly one in three adults (about 78 million people) has high blood pressure and more than half of them don’t have it under control. Start self-monitoring blood pressure and know the numbers.

PLAY TOGETHER: Spending time together as a family is a great way to reduce stress, which is important to heart health.

Learn more by visiting YMCA br.org.