Love your heart, not just on Valentine's Day...

February 5, 2009 |

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With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, hearts are buzzing everywhere. Candy hearts, cinnamon J0433218 hearts, chocolate hearts… the heart serves as a universal symbol to express our feelings for our loved ones. But what about loving your own heart? While it may not be very romantic to talk about heart disease risks on Valentine’s Day, it is a great opportunity to reflect on ways to improve the health of your “ticker” and those of your loved ones.

Lifestyle changes that can make a big difference for ♥ health

♥ Eat healthfully

Changing eating habits is not easy. Instead of forcing yourself to make drastic changes all at once which are likely to be abandoned like most New Year’s resolutions, do it gradually, adding healthy food choices one by one and crowding out less desirable items.

The Mayo Clinic lists seven steps to kick-start your way toward a heart-healthy diet:

1. Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterol
2. Choose low-fat protein sources
3. Eat more vegetables and fruits
4. Select whole grains
5. Reduce salt in your food
6. Practice moderation
7. Plan ahead: creating daily menus (source)

♥ Maintain a healthy weight

Excess weight is hard on your body, including your heart. While your body  
mass index (BMI) can serve as a good indicator of excess weight, your waist-to-hip ratio is more revealing of your heart-disease risk.  In other words, if you carry your excess weight mostly in your midsection (also called apple shaped), you are at greater risk for heart disease than people who carry their extra weight on their hips (also called pear shaped).

♥ Be active

No, you don’t have to train Olympic style or have to join a gym to reduce your risk of heart disease. The important thing is that you are active. Choose an activity that you enjoy such as swimming, biking, jogging or dancing. Start slowly and increase gradually.

One of the easiest activities to fit into a busy lifestyle is walking and it does not require any equipment or membership. Get off one stop before your destination or park your car further away and walk the rest. Walk up the stairs rather than take the elevator. Get a pedometer to track your steps. You’ll be surprised how many steps you accumulate which in itself is a fabulous motivator.

How long should you exercise?  Start exercising three or more times per week for 20 minutes or more and gradually increase to 30 minutes four to six times a week. And you don’t have to do it all in one stint – 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening or during your lunch break.  Remember, the important thing is that you are active and stick to it. (source)

♥ Avoid smoking

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Smoking contributes to the buildup of plaque in your arteries, increases the risk of blood clots, reduces the oxygen in your blood, increases your blood pressure and makes your heart work harder.

The good news is that once you become smoke-free and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke, you will immediately reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

For tips on becoming smoke-free check out their website. (source)                                                                                             

♥ Relax and have fun

Mental well-being is equally important for heart health. Depression, social isolation and lack of quality support are known factors for heart disease. While you cannot avoid stress altogether, you can learn how to respond to stressful situations in a constructive way. Try to cultivate a positive attitude towards life. Practice the art of relaxation and meditation. Set time aside for fun, if need be, schedule it like any other appointment. But most importantly, reach out – to your neighbour, co-worker, family, therapist, clergy…. (source)

And by all means, have fun on Valentine’s Day. The flavonoid, epicatechin, in that dark chocolate Chocolateheart heart you got for your Valentine may save your and your sweetheart’s heart.  Well, it’s worth a try!

Marietta Forster-Haberer, for the Consumer Health Information Service, Toronto Public Library

Further Reading

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Healthy Living.

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Healthy Living Features. Top 10 ways experts stay heart healthy that you can do, too! (February 1, 2009)

Public Health Agency of Canada. The Healthy Heart Kit. (November 19, 2002)

CDC. Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. American Heart Month. (February 2, 2009)

Health Canada. Mental Health – Coping with stress. (August 2007)