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With February officially known as American Heart Month, it's the perfect time to start thinking about how best to take care of our bodies and the most important muscle we have.

According to nutritionstudies.org, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Health and fitness experts say the general public should focus on making small changes to successfully travel down a path to increased wellness. Adapting a healthier diet and incorporating an exercise regimenn will help achieve optimum heart health.

"It's recommended that people exercise 30 minutes, three to five times per week," says Dr. Maya Kommineni, cardiologist at Porter Regional Hospital in Valparaiso. A low-impact exercise regimen is good if one is just beginning to get involved in a fitness program, Kommineni adds. But whatever type of exercise is undertaken, the doctor says you "must get your heart rate up."

Watching one's weight is also key to maintaining good heart health. "The way to increase weight loss is to decrease calories, particularly sugar calories," Kommineni says. "They are the worst," she says, adding empty calories from sweets or sugar-filled foods are of no benefit. The doctor says she has eliminated sugar from her personal diet.

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Kommineni stresses that watching what you eat and combining that with exercise are important for taking care of your heart. "People must try to do both. They must make subtle diet changes," she says, adding the changes should never be overwhelming. When it comes to eating, Komineni says it's important "to increase the amount of fresh veggies in a diet" as well.

Personal trainer Bob Kaczmarczyk, who is the owner/trainer at Heavy Metal Fitness in Highland, says the exercise regimen people choose should be something they're comfortable with. "It definitely depends on a case-to-case basis," Kaczmarczyk says. The advice for being more heart healthy, he says, is really "simple and straightforward."

"Being more active and eating better in general" is key, Kaczmarczyk says. Society, these days, is often too sedentary, he says. Some style of exercise and activity is important whether "you're going for a walk, playing with the kids or doing more aggressive exercises," Kaczmarczyk says. He also advises people to lessen the consumption of processed and take-out food.

And since the heart is a muscle—the body's most important one at that—those who are exercising must keep their workouts in balance, remembering to keep that heart rate up but not overexerting yourself.