Candy hearts, chocolate roses and swanky dinner reservations might seem like the perfect Valentine’s Day treat — but is that really what your heart is longing for? Finding the perfect gift to show your sweetheart how much you care can be quite the challenge, especially when trying to keep your health and fitness goals in check. Whether your Valentine is your spouse, your children or even yourself, heart health is the gift that keeps giving. Incorporate these heart healthy ideas into your Valentine’s Day celebration to keep the love alive while keeping your wellness — and the wellness of your loved ones — at the forefront.

Skip the Dinner Reservations

Dinner for two at the fanciest restaurant in town might sound like the best way to celebrate the holiday of love, but you could be setting yourself up for an evening of carb heavy, artery clogging overindulgence. According to a recent study, the average restaurant meal contains 1200 calories. This is nearly half of the average recommendation of 2500 calories per day! In addition, there is no way to know how many unhealthy fillers are hiding in your meals, such as refined carbohydrates in salad dressings and trans fatty acids in margarine.

Instead, show your loved one how much you care by opting for a heart healthy home cooked meal. Just .5 ounces of omega-3 fatty acid-rich salmon will help lower your triglycerides and keep blood flowing throughout the body. A bean salad is your best option for soluble fiber, which is known to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. Incorporate fresh raspberries into a colorful smoothie or fruit salad for an added kick of the free radical-cleansing antioxidant polyphenol. Not only will this allow you to keep closer tabs on what you are putting into your body, but it makes for a fun bonding activity for couples and families alike.

heart health anti agingGet Your Heart Racing

A holiday is no excuse to skip out on a great workout, especially when you can make it a part of your Valentine’s Day celebration. Regular exercise helps to keep your heart healthy in several ways, such as lowering blood pressure, strengthening the heart muscle and promoting weight loss when combined with a healthy diet.

While a trip to the gym might not be the most glamorous way to spend your Valentine’s Day, there are plenty of exercises that will get your heart racing in more ways than one. The average person burns between 200-300 calories in a couple’s ballroom dancing class, 400-600 calories downhill skiing, and 500-700 calories on an hour long bike ride. Whether you’re hitting the dance floor, bringing the family out on the slopes or taking a brisk ride on a bicycle built for two, your heart will be receiving the workout it needs to stay strong and function optimally.

Strive for Stress Free

Perhaps the greatest gift you could give your loved ones — or even yourself — is the gift of relaxation. There’s no denying daily life can be stressful, between busy days at work, taking care of the home and coping with any additional health problems. Chronic stress plays a significant role in your cardiovascular health as well, and can cause higher cholesterol levels, raised blood pressure and an increased risk for heart disease later in life.

While you can’t always control the stressors around you, you can use Valentine’s Day as the perfect excuse to take some time to relax. Treat yourself or your special someone to a stress-free day at the spa, or give the gift of soothing essential oils like rose or lavender. Laughter is a powerful stress relief medicine that triggers the release of the feel good chemical serotonin, so spend a night out at a comedy club or curl up on the couch with a funny movie. If you’re looking for your fitness fix, try a couple’s yoga class. The stretching and bending will release mood boosting endorphins, while deep breathing exercises and meditation will allow your heart rate to slow down and stabilize.

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Savor Your Sweets

For many people, Valentine’s Day isn’t the main holiday in February — they’re looking forward to the day after Valentine’s Day when chocolate goes on sale. Sure, a few chocolates won’t do any real harm to your long term health. But when that “few” turns into an entire heart shaped box in one sitting, it’s time to search for a healthier alternative to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Sweets lovers rejoice, because a small daily dose of dark chocolate is actually healthy for your heart! Compared to milk chocolate and white chocolate, dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa content contains the largest concentration of heart healthy antioxidants with the lowest amount of sugar. Dark chocolate is also packed with flavonols, a phytochemical compound proven to have several heart healthy benefits such as lowering blood pressure and improving heart circulation. Anything eaten in excess is unhealthy, so be sure to snack in moderation. Treat yourself to 1-2 ounces (roughly one “square”) of dark chocolate per day and store in the freezer to help prolong its freshness long after the Valentine’s Day festivities have ended.

Embracing Heart Healthy Activities

There are plenty of fun and unique activities to get into the heart healthy mindset, but showing your heart some love shouldn’t only be reserved for Valentine’s Day! Staying active, eating well and designating time to de-stress should be incorporated into your daily routine in order to keep your (and your loved ones’) heart in optimal shape for years to come. To learn more about heart health, or to discover more healthy activities the whole family can enjoy year-round, consult with a functional medicine doctor to create a heart healthy wellness plan tailored to your individual needs.
Dr. Lorraine Maita is a recognized and award-winning holistic, functional, and anti-aging physician and author. She transforms people’s lives by getting to the root cause of illness using the best of science and nature. Her approach is personalized, precision medicine where you are treated as the unique individual you are. If you’re ready to start your journey to a healthier, happier life, schedule your visit today!

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