American Heart Month: know your numbers!

February 1 marks the start of American Heart Month, shining a spotlight on heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of heart disease, but first you need to know the numbers for certain risk factors, including your cholesterol level, blood glucose, blood pressure and body mass index.

Starting with your cholesterol level, Conway cardiologist Dr. Andy Gresko said it's important to find out your "good" and "bad" cholesterol numbers. The one doctors look at the most is LDL, the "bad" kind.

"The LDL for the general population should be 130 or less. If you have heart disease, 70 or less," Dr. Gresko said.

Your HDL, the "good" cholesterol, should be above 50. Dr. Gresko suggests you have your cholesterol checked once a year.

Your blood pressure is another good number to know. According to the American Heart Association, the normal range is 120 over 80.

Dr. Gresko said your blood glucose number, or blood sugar level, should be around 110 mg/dL or less. That number is used to check for diabetes, a growing problem in this country.

"If you have diabetes, that increases your risk for heart disease and that can be treated and followed with the help of a family or internal medicine doctor," said Gresko.

As for your body mass index, the healthy range is considered to be 20 to 25 and a BMI over 30 is generally considered obese. It's easy to find your number, using a BMI calculator.

So if any of your numbers are outside the normal range, how can you bring them back in line?

Dr. Gresko said a healthy lifestyle should include at least 30 minutes a day of aerobic activity, five days a week.

And take a good look at what's on your plate. He said you should aim for a healthy balance. "Half of that should be fruits and vegetables, a quarter protein and a quarter grains. Try not to have those second servings and with desserts, maybe 2 or 3 a week."

One other risk factor doctors look at is your family history. Dr. Gresko said if your parents or family members are prone to heart disease, you should be more alert about your heart and the heart attack warning signs. You can't change your family history, he said, but you can improve your odds with a healthier lifestyle.

The American Heart Association says heart disease kills nearly 600,000 Americans each year.