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By Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD

Here’s some good news: Following a healthy lifestyle may prevent over 80 percent of sudden cardiac deaths. The challenge is figuring out the long-term, positive lifestyle habits that work best for you. But it’s worth the effort.

That’s because heart disease is the number one killer of women (even though more people are afraid of a cancer diagnosis).

In honor of American Heart Health Month, here’s a look at the biggest lifestyle factors that can lower your risk of getting heart disease. It’s never too early — or too late — to take action!

Remember, it’s the combination of these factors that is most impactful. So, if you’re doing one or two, that’s a great start — but push yourself to do more.

1. Don’t smoke

2. Maintain a healthy weight

3. Eat a healthy diet

4. Exercise regularly

5. Manage stress

6. Get enough sleep

7. Control high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol

These lifestyle basics don’t change. It’s important to be honest with yourself and focus on improving as many of these factors daily, step by step. It’s a long-term process for overall good health — not only heart health.

RELATED: How a woman's heart is different than a man's

You might be surprised to know that physicians advise women to get heart-smart in their 20s. Besides healthy lifestyle habits, that means finding a primary care doctor and learning the basics of your physical health: your BMI, glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure and heart rate. Talk regularly with your doctor about any concerns you have and discuss your family history. Some women choose to have a gynecologist as a primary care doctor, which many health plans approve (always check with your plan first).

Remember, heart disease and high blood pressure are often “silent” until damage has already been done. That’s why it’s important to take steps to lower your risk now. And while many women don’t want to talk about heart health until mid-life, begin the dialogue now.

Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD is the NBC News Health Editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.

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