Tips for a happier, healthier Valentine’s Day

Your sweetheart may have the key to your heart, but eating healthy and being physically active can be the key to a healthier heart. This Valentine’s Day, indulge your sweetheart with a heart-healthy gift or date.

Rather than going overboard with sweets, also consider a gift that has more permanence. Search for a poem that describes your feelings and write it on beautiful paper for a handmade Valentine. Or visit www.ShopHeart.org for gift ideas that benefit the American Heart Association.

Quality time is one of the most meaningful gifts. Bundle up and plan an active outing such as sledding, ice skating, gathering wood for a fire, or if you’re feeling adventurous, visit an indoor rock wall.

If your kids are having a Valentine’s Day party at their school or day care, instead of sending candies, consider raisins, grapes, whole-grain pretzels, colored pencils or stickers as tokens of their friendly affection.

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Cooking at home is an excellent way to control what and how much you eat. Take a date to a local cooking class to practice your skills or learn a new technique.

Prepare a romantic candlelit dinner at home using one of our heart-healthy recipes.

Give to one another by giving back. Ask a date to volunteer with you at a local organization. Giving back is a healthy habit that can boost your mood and help beat stress.

Use this day as an opportunity to tell your loved one how important they are to you, and share ways that you can support each other’s health and wellness. Get started by taking the My Life Check (mylifecheck.heart.org).

Craving something sweet? Gift a beautiful fresh fruit basket to your loved one, or consider more healthy sweets such as dark chocolate. Did you know that daily consumption of dark chocolate is linked with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke in high-risk individuals? It seems that cocoa, a primary ingredient in chocolate, contains antioxidant compounds called flavanoids. Flavanoids have antihypertensive and anti-inflammatory effects, which can reduce the heart’s stress and result in lower blood pressure. So indulge your inner chocoholic with a moderate piece of dark chocolate each day.

Sharing is caring – if you go out for a romantic dinner date, order one entrée to share. Many restaurant servings are enough for two – splitting will keep you from overdoing it.

Don’t forget to love Fido, too! Give your pet a Valentine and remember to walk or exercise them daily – getting active with your pet will benefit your health and your bond with your pets.

One of the best things you can do for your heart is to give up smoking or help a loved one quit. Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death.

Take it slow – if you receive a luxurious box of chocolates from your sweetie, stick it in the freezer and enjoy in moderation over the next several weeks.

Take a long, romantic walk with your beloved – and try to make it a regular habit. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity each week to help keep your heart healthy. You can reach this goal by walking briskly for at least 30 minutes five days each week.

Rekindle an old flame – try preparing one of your sweetie’s favorite recipes in a healthier way. These healthy substitutions can help you cut down on saturated fats, trans fats, salt, and added sugars, while noticing little, if any, difference in taste.

Still seeing hearts? You’ve seen hearts all month long; look for them at the grocery store and select products with the heart-check mark, which limits the amount of total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium in a food.

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Instead of frying foods – which adds unnecessary fats and calories – use cooking methods that add little or no fat, like stir-frying, roasting, grilling or steaming.

You can make many of your favorite recipes healthier by using lower-fat or no-fat ingredients. These healthy solutions can help you cut down on saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol, while noticing little, if any, difference in taste.

Whether cooking or making dressings, use the oils that are lowest in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol – such as canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil – but use them sparingly, because they contain 120 calories per tablespoon.

Try something new – try a new fruit or vegetable. Next time you’re at the store pick up something you’ve never made before. Many grocery stores have free recipe cards in the produce section or just type the food into your favorite search engine.

Know before you go – make it a point next time you go out to eat to look up the nutrition information for the restaurant you’re going to (most major chains have this online) and note the nutrition information for what you plan or usually order. Just knowing what you’re eating is a good step in the right direction.

Snacking isn’t bad if done in moderation and eating a little throughout the day can actually keep you from overdoing it at meal times. Check out some of our heart-healthy snack ideas.

Get active inside – winter is almost over, but there are plenty of ways to get moving indoors that don’t involve a gym membership; start mall walking with a sweetheart or friend, hit the stairs at work, or check out a yoga video form the public library or your local video store.

Working out together can be fun. Strength training increases blood flow, builds lean muscle, and lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. Choose a weight-training routine that is appropriate for your body, consulting a doctor or personal trainer if needed. If your strength is at a low ebb, even lifting a two-pound weight can be helpful. Increase the amount you lift as you gain strength.

Don’t forget to stay hydrated – staying properly hydrated helps you feel (and look) better and water is a great alternative to high-calorie, sugar-sweetened drinks. Treat yourself to a fun new water bottle to encourage the habit – if it’s always handy, you’re more likely to drink up.

 

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