Did you know, according to the World Heart Federation, heart disease and stroke takes the lives of 17.3 million people each year making cardiovascular disease the world’s number one killer? Can we really protect ourselves against this deadly disease? The answer is yes. Research suggests as much as 80% of heart disease can be prevented by taking small everyday steps towards a healthier heart.

On September 29, World Heart Day will be observed around the globe. This year’s theme is “Take the Road to a Healthy Heart”. Here are four essential steps you can take today to protect your heart and the hearts of your loved ones.

Become an expert. Know your heart healthy numbers: blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol levels, and waist size. The American Heart Association recommends you follow these numbers starting in your 20’s. Identify a healthcare provider you trust and take the time to discuss your risk factors. Create a health journal and take an active role in knowing and understanding what these numbers mean for you.

Dig out that tape measure. A large waist (even if you’re not overweight) is a risk factor for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. All three of these are threats for developing heart disease. To measure your waist size correctly, place a tape measure around your bare stomach, just above your hipbone and about one inch above your belly button. Pull the tape measure until it fits snugly around you, but not pressed into your skin. Relax, exhale, and measure your waist resisting the urge to hold in your stomach. Women should aim for 35 inches or less and men 40 inches or less.

Find ways to move more often. As little as 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. If you hate the thought of the gym or organized exercise classes don’t let this detour you. Start moving in other ways: playing outside with your kids, dancing, walking briskly, swimming, and yard raking all count. Don’t have 30 minutes? Break up your activity into 10-15 minutes segments throughout your day. Pack a work-out bag everyday so you’re ready when a moment presents itself to get out there and be active.

Create a plate full of color. The next time you dish up a plate of food, ask yourself if half the plate is filled with fruit and/or vegetables? If we are honest, most often, half the plate is filled with refined rice, bread, or pasta combinations. Our arteries crave the antioxidant effects of colorful fruits and veggies not to mention fiber which helps keep cholesterol from building up and essential minerals that can lower blood pressure. To complete a heart healthy meal, fill the remaining quarters of your plate with whole grains and healthy protein like lean meat/fish/skinless chicken/beans/tofu/eggs, and fat free or low fat dairy products.

The road to a healthy heart begins with making simple everyday choices to reduce your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Start today.