Do you feel tired, have high blood pressure, get short of breath doing daily activities, have high cholesterol or triglyceride levels? If so, it’s time to check in with your doctor. This is the time of year to assess your health, and start taking action to manage any risks or issues you may be having.

I want you to feel empowered –  listen to your body and become aware of how life’s changes take their toll, and how to adjust to things as best as you can. Aiming for improved heart health is twofold. First, you have to figure out what your current risks may be. Secondly you’ll work on lifestyle changes.

Risks factors to discuss with your doctor

  • Your weight. Do you know what you actually weigh, or “around” what you weigh? Get the specifics and get on a digital scale. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for heart disease. Talk to your doctor about your weight and ask to schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian to set goals. You don’t have to be “the perfect weight”, but a dietitian can help you set a healthy weight goal.
  • Tobacco Use. Quit smoking and/or using all tobacco products. Talk to your doctor about a smoking cessation program for support.
  • Your family history. You have no control over this, but it’s good to know what you may be up against.
  • Age. As you get older, obviously your risk for disease increases. If you are over 40, it’s a good idea to schedule an annual check up with your doctor to review and evaluate your health.
  • High blood pressure and high blood lipids. Sometimes this is hereditary, but there are certainly some lifestyle changes that you can make to improve your profiles. Medicine alone is not the answer, and should be combined with proper dietary therapy.
  • Sedentary lifestyle. Once you see your doctor for approval, get moving. If you haven’t been active in a while, start with something simple such as a walking program or some simple floor exercises.

Lifestyle Considerations

  • Salt. Use less salt and reduce the use of high sodium foods. Check labels. Get a copy of my Restaurant Calorie Counter For Dummies® to find out how much sodium is in common restaurant menu items.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. I’m a broken record on this one, but I have to work at this daily too! Add fruit to your oatmeal. Choose fruit for your snack time, add more vegetables into your weeknights dinners. Put out a bowl of raw veggies to munch on when you are short on time. Add fruit to dinner if you are pressed for time and can’t get a fresh vegetable prepared.
  • Include 3 servings of low fat dairy daily: 8 ounces 1% or non-fat milk or yogurt counts as a serving. Get out the blender and try a smoothie made with low fat yogurt and frozen berries to cover a fruit serving and a dairy serving!
  • Choose smaller portions of foods that you love. For instance, choose lean meats, trimmed of most fat. You don’t have to limit yourself to fish and poultry; you can include lean cuts of beef and pork. About 6-8 ounces total a day is adequate and will keep saturated fat in check.
  • Try something new. You may not like the idea of “vegetarian”, but choosing a bean burger once in a while for lunch, or going for a veggie stir fry, may be quite enjoyable. It’s not about all-or-nothing, but variety.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Do include 4-8 ounces of fish every week. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids. Add other healthy fats – like olives, olive oil, nuts (walnuts, almonds) and seeds (flax, chia) to your diet.

Hypertension Cookbook For Dummies® shares lots of information about blood pressure and dietary therapy, in addition to providing tasty new recipes that supports heart health. Rather than go on a crash diet or exercise program this winter, take small, but consistent steps to improve your heart health. Sustainable lifestyle habits are the key to your long-term health. In a few years, you will find that taking small steps each year results in new healthy habits that help you feel better over your lifetime.

Steamed Broccoli Picatta

from Hypertension Cookbook For Dummies®, copyright 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


  • 1 large bunch broccoli, cut into stalks
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest


1. Place the broccoli in a steamer basket over 2 inches of water in a large saucepan over high heat. Cover and steam for about 5 minutes (you can also steam in the microwave. Place broccoli in glass baking dish with tight-fitting lid, cook on high for 4 minutes)

2. In a small skillet, heat the butter, garlic, and red pepper flakes until the garlic is tender. Add the grated lemon zest.

3. Drizzle the sauce over the steamed broccoli.

Per serving: Calories 41; Fat 3 grams (saturated 2 g); Cholesterol 8 mg; Sodium 33 mg; Carbohydrate 3 g (dietary fiber 1 g); Potassium 130 mg