According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. By the end of 2009, about 785,000 Americans will have suffered their first coronary event, and 470,000 will have experienced a repeat attack—that amounts to about one every 25 seconds, and every minute someone dies from cardiovascular complications. For a handful of people, factors such as genetics and increasing age make heart disease an unfortunate inevitability; for others, heart disease can be avoided by making the right lifestyle choices. That might be hard to do in a time when the life of a fast-food-munching couch potato is far too easy to fall into, but even a modicum of effort will go a long way in keeping heart disease at bay. Start by following these tips:

Make exercising a habitual part of your routine. A daily workout acts as a fountain of youth, improves brain function, reduces stress, prevents myriad diseases, etc. You should engage in 30 to 60 minutes of moderately strenuous activity at least five days a week, but you can benefit from even 10 minutes of brisk walking every day. And it’s never too late to start. A 2008 study conducted at the Washington University School of Medicine found that the test subjects, who ranged from 60 to 75 years old and were physically inactive before the start of the study, doubled the glucose uptake of their hearts, thereby improving metabolic function, after participating in a year-long endurance exercise regimen that included walking, running, and cycling sessions lasting an hour three to five days a week.1

Set a goal of five to 10 a day. Five to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit, that is. A diet rich in those components is less likely to contain high amounts of artery cloggers such as saturated fat. Last April, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health reported that the Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension, or DASH, diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, not only lowers hypertension risk but also reduces the likelihood of coronary heart disease and stroke.2

Get regular checkups. Keeping tabs on your blood pressure and cholesterol is crucial if you want to prevent heart disease because these numbers will give you an idea on how well you’re doing. And according to a study that researchers from the Mayo Clinic presented to the American College of Cardiology at the end of March, a simple finger test called the EndoPAT, which gauges the health of the cells that line the blood vessels, is showing real promise in predicting major cardiac events such as heart attack or stroke.3