The temptations arriving in stores and restaurants around Valentine's Day are pretty irresistible: tons of sugary candy and multi-course meals made with rich ingredients. But while you're showing some love for your significant other, show some love for your own heart as well.
Here are some ways to practice good heart health—not just on Valentine's Day, but year-round.
While you're checking out those V-Day menus, scout for salmon and tuna. Research has established that omega-3 fats and fish oils decrease triglycerides, reduce the inflammation around the heart, and bring down blood pressure. If you dislike fish or you're vegan/vegetarian and can't work it into your diet 2–3 times per week, try a serving size of around 12 walnuts daily.
At the same time, try to reduce your sodium intake. Canned soups and vegetables, preserved and cured meats, bottled sauces, and salad dressings, and processed snack foods contain more than your recommended daily average. If you think of those foods as treats instead of relying on them for meals, it's easy to cut down.
For adults, cardiologists recommend 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking, or 75 minutes of intense aerobic exercise, such as jogging, every week. Complement that activity with strength-building exercise two days per week. Children need an hour of exercise daily (and, no, moving their thumbs on devices doesn't count).
Those with disabilities or chronic illnesses who can't engage in strenuous physical activity should ask their physicians for recommendations. Yoga and Pilates instructors often receive special training on how to work with people who have individual needs.
Still smoking? One word: Quit. The best Valentine's Day gift you can give yourself is clean organs. At the same time, work on reducing your stress level. As with quitting smoking, this might be easier said than done. But letting go of both smoking and stress are important not only to your own health, but in order to model good lifestyle habits to your children, if you have them. To do so, try meditation apps or volunteer in your community doing something you love, such as working with animals.
It's also important to maintain a healthy weight. As with eating the right kinds of foods, keeping a reasonable amount of pounds on your frame is important. Being both overweight and underweight strains the heart in different ways.
And finally, address snoring and sleep issues. Physicians estimate that one in five adults have mild sleep apnea, a known factor in heart disease.
Don't skip the annual physical. Cardiovascular disease can creep in even when you feel fine. If you're young, establish blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol, and body mass index baselines, so that you'll know if and when they start to rise. If you're older, incorporate the ankle-brachial index test, which measures the pulses in your feet and helps diagnose peripheral artery disease.
Also, record your medical history. Find out, to the best of your ability, what your relatives have experienced. Parents or siblings with heart disease increase your own chances of developing the same.
Most importantly, learn the warning signs of a cardiac event. They don't always present themselves as sudden crushing pain and numbness, and they can differ for men and women. If you experience shortness of breath, unexplained fatigue, or unusual indigestion, call a physician or head to your nearest CityMD.