February is Heart Month – not only a time to treat your Valentine, but also a time to learn more about heart health. High blood pressure, or hypertension,  is common, and a major risk factor for heart disease. These eight factors  play a role:

  1. Diet
  2. Obesity
  3. Exercise
  4. Smoking
  5. Alcohol
  6. Stress
  7. Family History
  8. Age

While you can’t stop the clock nor change your family history, you do have some control over some of these eight factors. Think about what you eat each day, and work on adding more nutrient-rich, fiber-rich foods. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains are a good place to start for fiber.

Most people with high blood pressure respond well to a sodium reduction. While many of the recipes in our books have no added salt, it is okay to add a pinch here and there, but be aware of the sodium added to your diet from highly processed food (keeping in mind that a daily goal for sodium is around 2300 milligrams). Check food labels for sodium, and compare brands when you shop.

Better, Not Perfect

Note that exercise is on the list. Improving your fitness level helps your heart and simply makes your body more functional. Talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise program, and start slowly. If you can, consider hiring a personal trainer to get you started, or join a group exercise class with a friend. Having some accountability helps.

It’s really hard to eat right and exercise week after week. Some people struggle much more with weight control than others. If you are one of those people who has a hard time losing weight, don’t beat yourself about it. Forget the scale for a while, and instead just focus on making healthy choices.


Add new healthy foods to your diet, and take smaller portions of higher calorie ones. Add an activity you enjoy to your regular weekly schedule (although, as Oprah recently said, even if you do

n’t love it, it’s important to your health, so get up and move!). Those little daily moves count too: Take the stairs, walk from store to store instead of using your car, get up from your chair more often.

Instead of tracking your progress via the scale, congratulate yourself when you’ve met one of those health goals instead. Even without significant changes in body weight, the changes you make in eating and physical activity behaviors can have positive impacts on your health.

Modifying Your Behavior

Here are some examples of little modifications you can make in your behavior that can result in improved health by the end of the year. Everyone is an individual, and the possibilities are endless, but consider choosing from these simple changes to get you started. A few small changes can create a healthier you in 6 months:

  1. Eat oatmeal for breakfast 3 or more times a week. The fiber in oatmeal can help lower your cholesterol.
  2. Get 10 minutes of exercise every day. When you can, do more, such as a 20-45 minute walk 2-3 times a week. Some people find a fitness tracker helps to keep them mindful and add steps daily.
  3. Have a green salad loaded with veggies and lean protein (grilled chicken, tuna, cottage cheese, beans, sunflower seeds, or nuts) on it for lunch twice a week.
  4. At dinner twice a week – skip the bread and starch, and just enjoy lean meat with extra vegetables.
  5. Many people enjoy the support they get from joining a gym, but you don’t have to if it’s not for you. Can you do a push-up? Work on that until you can do 5 or more push ups every morning or at bedtime. Do the same to work up to 25 abdominal crunches.
  6. Replace your afternoon vending machine candy bar or chips with a 6 ounce yogurt, a fresh piece of fruit, or a small handful of nuts in the afternoon.