HONOLULU -- Valentine's Day may be over, but that doesn't mean you should ignore your heart the rest of the year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in the United States, 1 in 4 deaths are attributed to heart disease and over 600,000 people die of heart disease annually.

According to Capt. William Conkright, Chief, Nutrition Outpatient Clinic at Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC), "heart health, or the absence of heart disease, comes from living a healthy lifestyle-managing stress, getting enough sleep, exercising, not smoking and eating a healthy diet".

Preventable diseases, such as high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attacks, are factors that contribute to an unhealthy heart.

There are less obvious health effects as well.

Your heart health contributes to your performance and mental awareness.

As your heart works to pump blood through your body, that blood carries nutrients and oxygen so that your heart, and other organs, can function optimally.

Recommendations from experts like Conkright include exercising at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week, at a moderate or higher level of exertion.

"People should focus on moving frequently outside of their normal exercise time," suggests Conkright. "Studies have shown that prolonged sitting is equivalent to smoking for health. Every hour spent sitting is approximately the same as smoking one cigarette," added Conkright.

Exercise is only one piece of the puzzle though.

A heart healthy lifestyle also includes eating minimally processed foods, limiting added sugars and sodium, including plenty of fiber and limiting certain types of fats.

The majority of sodium in foods doesn't come from the added salt from a salt shaker. Over 70 percent of sodium in an average American diet comes from highly processed foods, used as a preservative or flavor enhancer.

"So the first place to look to reduce sodium intake shouldn't necessarily be your salt shaker but rather processed meats, cheeses, condiments (e.g.-soy sauce, mustard), packaged or most canned products and most frozen meals," said Conkright.

What are some other changes that can help you become more heart healthy?

An obvious answer is to stop smoking and stop all tobacco use.

Managing stress, increasing activity and movement outside of a regular exercise routine is also an important component.

Try a plant based diet.

Changing your eating habits to a plant based diet doesn't mean you have to be vegetarian or vegan, but instead suggest including at least 50 to 75 percent or more of plant based foods to your regular diet.

"Heart disease is one of the biggest killers in the United States. It's also, to a large extent, mostly controllable through diet and lifestyle changes," noted Conkright. "While medications can be extremely helpful in improving what your lab results say, many of the medications tend to come with side effects. More times than not people can drastically improve their risk for heart disease by modifying these controllable factors and the best part is that it doesn't come with the negative side effects," added Conkright.

More information on heart health can be found online at the American Heart Association (AHA) or online at the CDC.

To make an appointment for a personal consultation on your heart health, beneficiaries can contact TAMC's Nutrition Outpatient Clinic at 808-433-4950.