Do you know the number one killer of women in America today? Many will say cancer. Cancer is a horrible, tragic disease. But it's not number one.

The number one killer of women is heart disease. Heart disease kills about 500,000 women a year, according to the American Heart Association - more than the next six causes of death combined - including all forms of cancer.

And - somewhat surprisingly - heart disease kills more women than men. Perhaps the most important fact is this: Heart disease is often preventable.

That's why I'm writing today. February is Heart Month, and Capital BlueCross is committed to getting the word out about heart-disease prevention, particularly to women, in Parkesburg and across Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.

Men: Here's a simple Valentine's Day gift that could be life-saving: Take a moment to urge the women in your life to take care of their hearts.

Women: Don't wait to be asked. Too many women put everyone else's health before their own. In order to take care of your loved ones - you need to take care of yourself first.

Here's how to do it. Simple steps go a long way:

Talk with your doctor. Your physician is ready to be your partner. Staying away won't make the risk go away. Ask your physician what you need to do to be heart healthy.

Know your numbers. Be aware of your cholesterol and other key indicators. Get involved with your heart's health.

Exercise. It makes all the difference. And you don't have to go to the gym everyday to do it. Walking briskly for 20 minutes goes a long way toward a healthier heart - and makes you feel better to boot. For some helpful tips on working walking into your daily routine, check out our Walking Works program at www.capbluecross.com. You'll also find hundreds of other healthy living tips on the site.

Stop smoking. Smoking increases blood pressure and decreases exercise tolerance. Kick the tobacco habit. Your heart and your loved ones will thank you for it.

Choose the right foods. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean meats and fish. Make food selections low in fat, saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol - and you'll make your heart happier.

Make heart health a family affair. Preparing healthful recipes and enjoying fun physical activities together are great ways to improve your heart health and teach your children that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be fun.

They're simple steps - but they can make all the difference.

Have a happy Heart Month - and a healthier life.

Anita M. Smith is president and CEO of Capital BlueCross).

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