As Valentine's Day approaches, you might feel the need to focus on your metaphorical heart — the one that bonds you with your significant other or longs for a partner. However, caring for your physical heart is just as important as caring for your metaphorical one. Pursuing heart-healthy activities and habits can increase your overall well-being and prepare you for a long, healthy life.
When you're not picking out flowers for your beloved or watching romantic comedies on cable television this February 14, take these strategies into consideration, so your emotional and physical hearts stay equally healthy.
1. Pay Attention to Your Mental Health
You might think that the heart poets write about has nothing to do with the organ inside your body, but the American Heart Association asserts that the two are more connected than you may realize. In fact, mental and emotional health can impact heart disease and other related conditions.
The AHA describes a two-way link between mental fitness and heart health. For instance, heart disease can lead to depression and anxiety among patients who worry about their futures, while depression and anxiety can put stress on the heart and cause complications with cardiovascular disease.
If you suffer from a mental health condition, you can protect your heart by:
- Making an appointment with a mental health professional for guidance and support
- Keeping your primary care physician informed about all aspects of your health care needs
- Taking medication as prescribed by your doctors
- Knowing what circumstances might trigger your anxiety or depression so you can avoid them
Ignoring the problem won't make it go away. Your best path forward is to pay attention to your health care in a holistic way, so you can address all the issues that might impact your heart.
2. Skip the Sweets
If you're in search of the perfect Valentine's Day gift for your partner, parent, child, friend, or another loved one, avoid the supermarket candy aisle. According to Julie Corliss, executive editor of the Harvard Heart Letter, sugar doesn't just expand the waistline or necessitate more trips to the dentist — it's also linked with heart disease.
While chocolate-covered cherries and heart-shaped candies might seem like the ideal gift, you might have better luck with healthier fare. Prepare your loved one's favorite heart-healthy meal using fresh, low-calorie ingredients. Alternatively, surprise the special people in your life with potted plants (they last longer than cut flowers) or hand-made crafts.
Durable gifts like these have a much longer shelf life than sweets. Plus, you won't feel tempted to indulge with the recipient of your gift, so you'll protect everyone's heart.
3. Pick Up a Hobby
What you really want for Valentine's Day is more time with the people you love. To reach that goal, consider taking up a hobby that you both enjoy. Healthline asserts that hands-on hobbies reduce stress and keep both your mind and body active — even when they don't require much physical activity.
Whether you enjoy putting together model airplanes, knitting blankets, embroidering pillows, playing board games, or creating scrapbooks, creative hobbies can help you create a deeper bond with your mate or establish an enduring tradition among family members.
If your loved one already has a favorite hobby, you have an excellent option for a Valentine's Day gift. Instead of sugary treats or other unhealthy presents, you can wrap something related to the hobby. Thoughtful gifts are always more meaningful than generic choices.
4. Find New Strategies for Portion Control
A nutrient-rich, low-fat diet is essential for heart health. One way to stop feeling deprived and begin embracing such a diet is to indulge only in small portions, especially during holiday celebrations. If you have trouble eyeballing the right portion size, try these methods:
- Measure servings in advance: Instead of curling up in front of the television with your favorite person and a family-size bag of potato chips, divide the bag into individual portions using plastic sandwich bags. That way, you stop eating when you finish your serving.
- Use your fist: During meals, try loading your plate with portions that are smaller than your fist. For extra rich or fatty foods, use a half-fist portion size instead.
- Grab a plate: Plates divided into sections make it easy to dish out a healthy serving every time you sit down for a meal. As a bonus, they eliminate the need for extra bowls because each section has raised edges to keep menu items separate.
- Take half to go: Instead of finishing the meal during your Valentine's Day evening out, ask for a to-go container when the server brings your food. Put half the meal into the container so you're not tempted to overeat.
If you know how to control your portions, you won't have to give up the foods you love — even if they're not the healthiest choices for your heart. These strategies can also help you lose weight, which can improve your heart health and leave you with more energy.
5. Prioritize Sleep Every Night
With your favorite shows streaming on Netflix, blogs calling your attention online, and social events piling up on your calendar, it's easy to put every other obligation and activity above sleep. However, getting enough rest helps keep your heart in tip-top shape. Just like mental health, sleep quality and quantity have a back-and-forth relationship with cardiovascular disease.
If you develop a heart-related medical problem, you might lose sleep due to worrying about your prognosis and fretting about your treatment options. Additionally, a lack of sleep can increase your risk for heart disease, especially if you have other risk factors such as:
- Family history of heart disease
- Tobacco or alcohol abuse
- High blood pressure or cholesterol
Instead of planning a long night of movies, dancing, or other entertainment, resolve to turn in early on Valentine's Day and maintain a regular sleep schedule throughout the year. Getting at least six to eight hours of sleep every night will not only improve your heart's health, but also leave you feeling more energized and focused throughout each day.
6. Add Color to Your Diet
While Valentine's Day might be associated with red and pink, your diet needs to reflect the full color spectrum. According to nutritionist Hana A. Feeney, heart-healthy diets include fruits and vegetables of every hue. Natural foods with intense colors, like kale and beets, contain powerful antioxidants that help keep your blood vessels clean of pollutants.
To make this strategy easier, focus on eating foods of at least two different colors with every meal. If you're looking for Valentine's Day inspiration, consider loading your plate (and that of your romantic partner) with red foods that contain lots of antioxidants, such as strawberries, cranberries, cherries, and raspberries. For a little variation, throw in pink options like grapefruit.
7. Build Healthy Relationships
To further cement the relationship between emotional and heart health, the Harvard Women's Health Watch reports that social connections can have a positive impact on your potential for cardiovascular disease and other coronary-related conditions. Not only should you nurture romantic relationships, it's also important to assemble a network of friends and colleagues who provide you with a support system.
A thriving social life is positively correlated with low stress levels and high degrees of happiness. When you have people you trust in your corner, you're less likely to let life's little disappointments overrun your thoughts. Furthermore, you're more likely to engage in active pursuits and maintain your health if you're surrounded by people who love and respect you.
However, it's best to focus on quality over quantity. Instead of trying to meet as many people as possible to build up your social life, concentrate on nurturing the relationships that matter most to you, such as the one you share with your spouse or significant other. Healthy relationships offer far more advantages than superficial alternatives.
8. Find New Ways to Get Moving
You don't need to buy a yoga mat, a set of free weights, or a treadmill to get in shape. Exercise is one of the most important components of heart health, but you have to want to get moving. If you dread visiting the gym or jogging around the block, drop those options and find other solutions that fit your personality and lifestyle.
If you have a pet, for instance, show him or her some extra attention this Valentine's Day. Throw the ball in the backyard so your dog can fetch as many times as he or she wants. You'll work up a sweat while showing your four-legged pal how much he or she means to you.
It's also beneficial to find a workout buddy. Whether you're playing disc golf at the park or dancing to 80s tunes in your living room, a fitness buddy will keep you both motivated and accountable. Valentine's Day reminds you to show your appreciation for your loved ones, so spend time together in active pursuits.
When you build a healthy relationship with your heart, you won't have to dread your next doctor's visit or annual physical. You'll feel better and rest easier knowing you have plenty of Valentine's Days in your future.