ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Heart disease is one of the greatest health threats to Americans, but in many cases, there are things people can do to reduce their risk of a cardiac episode.

February is American Heart Month, and while heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, there are some ways you can reduce risk factors and live a healthier lifestyle, all while improving your heart health.

"The most important thing in cardiovascular disease is preventing disease before it happens. While we have advanced technologies to treat heart attacks and strokes and other things when they happen, the diseases can be dramatically reduced by treatment of risk factors: the way we eat, the way we exercise, know your blood pressure, if you have diabetes, treat it, know what your cholesterol is, avoid smoking, among other things," said Dr. Timothy Williams with Cardiovascular Associates of Charlottesville.

Some risk factors are not able to be changed.

"The number one risk factor for a heart attack after 50 is age greater than 50," Williams said.

But there are lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

"Regular physical activity is going to reduce your risk for a future cardiac event by 50 percent, so that's the most powerful intervention. The other is nutrition, we say diet, we really mean nutrition, so healthy eating, fresh fruits and vegetables, focus more on plants rather than animal fats," Williams said.

Doctors can offer advice, but much of the work has to be done by the patient.

"While there are lots of things that can happen in doctors' offices, there are a lot of things you can do at home. Check your blood pressure at home, you can start to restrict your salt at home, you can walk at home, oftentimes I'll emphasize to my patients that in a physician's office, we're going to direct you; we're health coaches, but the activity of what you're doing happens outside of the office," he said.

After Buffalo Bills football player Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the football field during a game, Williams said the importance of knowing CPR and using an AED has come to the forefront.

"A lot of causes of sudden cardiac death are sudden arrhythmias that are best treated with a shock, and so CPR really keeps the person alive and their brain getting oxygen, and their vital organs getting oxygen, but the AED is really what treats it," he said.

That way, anyone can help save a life.

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