February has long been associated with hearts -- mostly the sweethearts we celebrated last week on Valentine's Day.

While February gives us a good excuse to indulge in sweets and dinners out with someone special, remember that February also is American Heart Month.

This national campaign reminds us of the importance of heart health, both to our families and our communities.

The first American Heart Month proclamation was issued in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had suffered a heart attack just nine years earlier. In the 21st century, we are living longer than in Johnson's era, but even more than 55 year later, heart disease remains the single largest health threat to Americans.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease -- heart disease and stroke combined -- kill about 2,300 people a day.

The association also reports that:

* Heart disease kills more people than all forms of cancer combined.

* 83% of Americans believe heart attacks can be prevented but aren't motivated to do anything.

* 72% of Americans don't consider themselves at risk for heart disease.

* 58% of Americans put no effort into improving their heart health.

The good news is that there are plenty of preventive measures and lifestyle changes we can make to lower our risk of developing heart disease.

The Whitehall Division of Fire encourages you to:

* Schedule a visit with a doctor to talk heart health.

* Watch your weight and increase healthful eating.

* Get active -- maybe take a walk at Whitehall Community Park or sign up for a class at the Whitehall YMCA?

* Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke.

* Control cholesterol and blood pressure.

* Take medications as prescribed.

* Reduce stress.

* Drink alcohol only in moderation.

However, should your preventive measures fall short, the Whitehall Division of Fire is always here for you.

A main predictor of surviving a heart attack or stroke is how early the warning signs are observed and acted on.

Always call 911 if you experience the warning signs of a heart attack, including:

* Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes -- or it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

* Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.

* Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.

* Other signs, such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Those who experience the warning signs of a stroke also should call 911. Those signs include:

* Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms or legs, especially on one side of the body.

* Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech.

* Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

* Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.

* Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Again, please call 911 immediately so our team of highly skilled personnel can be there in a flash with state-of-the-art tools to give you the best care available.

We care about you and your family, so please take your health to heart this February -- and always.

Preston Moore is chief of the Whitehall Division of Fire.