Graphic of American Heart Month 50 yearsTo enjoy a “long and healthy life,” Americans should follow a few simple rules, especially those at higher risk of heart disease, President Obama wrote in the annual federal proclamation declaring February as American Heart Month.

The designation is aimed at increasing awareness that heart disease is the nation’s No. 1 killer, claiming more lives than an all forms of cancer combined. As Obama noted, “cardiovascular disease is responsible for one out of every four deaths in the United States.”

“While anyone can develop heart disease, those with high blood pressure or high cholesterol and those who smoke are at greater risk,” he wrote. “By adopting a few healthy habits – getting regular exercise; not smoking; eating diets rich in fruits and vegetables and low in salt, saturated fat, and cholesterol – each of us can reduce our risk.”

The document Obama signed Friday continues a tradition that began 50 years ago with President Lyndon Baines Johnson. History shows this effort has made a difference.

Since the early 1960s, annual deaths from cardiovascular diseases have dropped by nearly 1 million per year – and that’s while the nation’s population has grown by more than 129 million.

The American Heart Association is leading the way through awareness, education and funding of medical research. The organization has invested more than $3.5 billion into studies, the most of any entity outside the federal government.

In the proclamation, Obama pointed out that millions of Americans have greater access to health care through the Affordable Care Act. He added other steps his administration has taken.

“In 2011, we launched Million Hearts, which aims to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017,” he wrote. “And through First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, we are helping young people make the positive choices that will keep them healthy throughout their lives.”

Obama included a reminder that Friday, Feb. 7, is National Wear Red Day. The President and First Lady plan to do so “in solidarity with those struggling with heart disease and in acknowledgement of the hardworking health care professionals who provide life-saving treatment, research, and advice.”

“As we honor their contributions, let us take ownership of our heart health and commit to positive lifestyles, this month and throughout the year,” Obama wrote.

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