Although Americans have made progress in practicing healthier habits since February was officially was named American Heart Month in 1963, heart disease and stroke remain two of the top killers of Americans, according to the latest American Heart Association (AHA) statistics.

The AHA compiles an annual statistical update with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies, that reflects the most up-to-date statistics on heart disease, stroke, other vascular diseases and their risk factors.  Despite progress, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. and stroke is the No. 4 cause.

Over the past 10 years for which statistics are available, the death rate from heart disease has fallen about 39 percent – but the burden and risk factors remain alarmingly high.

The AHA has identified seven key health factors and behaviors that— when routinely practiced—can reduce risk for heart disease and stroke. The association refers to these as “Life’s Simple 7. ™” They are:  not smoking, physical activity, healthy diet, body weight, and control of cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

Here’s a snapshot of how Americans are doing in terms of practicing healthy behaviors:

Smoking – Among adults, 21 percent of men and 16 percent of women are smokers.

Physical Activity -About one in every three U.S. adults – 30 percent – reports participating in no leisure time physical activity.

Healthy Diet – Less than 1 percent of U.S. adults meet the AHA’s definition for “Ideal Healthy Diet” and essentially no children meet the definition.

Body Weight – Most Americans older than 20 are overweight or obese. About 155 million U.S. adults – or about 68 percent – are overweight or obese.

Control of Cholesterol – About 43 percent of Americans have total cholesterol higher of 200 or higher. •

Blood Pressure – About 78 million U.S. adults have high blood pressure. That’s about 33 percent.

Blood Sugar – About 20 million Americans have Type 2 diabetes. That’s slightly more than 8 percent of the adult population, but diabetes rates are growing. In fact, about 38 percent of Americans have prediabetes.

For many of us, practicing better health habits, and making better choices that affect our health status, is sometimes not perceived as “easy.”  But the repeated practice of good choices eventually is rewarded with better personal health statistics (attainment of ideal weight, lower cholesterol, avoidance of diabetes, lower blood pressure) and can actually seem to become easier over time, as making the “good” choice—most of the time—becomes a “behavior.”

In addition to the healthcare services HCA provides at our facilities and physician offices, HCA has another health resource available to help people live healthier lives. Membership in H2U (Health to You) is free to HCA-affiliated employees, and available to everyone else through employers, healthcare providers, businesses or individual membership for a modest annual fee. Visit their website to explore the programs and tools available.

I urge you to start today to begin making small changes in daily choices that will, in time, result in a healthier heart.