Whether it’s picking out just the right box of chocolates or uncorking your favorite bottle of wine, the little traditions surrounding Valentine’s Day celebrations also have a lot in common with things that are good for your heart. February is American Heart Month, so it’s a great time to pair the traditions of this holiday that’s all about love and romance with some feel-good ways to maintain a healthy heart.
Overall, a nutritious diet and regular exercise are the best ways to keep your cardiac system in good shape. But research has also shown there are certain things you can eat and specific activities that are geared toward heart health. Let’s take a look at the ones most closely associated with Valentine’s Day.
Dark chocolate. Millions of boxes of chocolates in all shapes and sizes are given as gifts each time February 14 rolls around. But some of these sweet treats are better for you than others. Dark chocolate is the clear winner when it comes to heart health. Dark chocolate made of 70% or more cacao – the raw form of chocolate – contains about half the sugar of milk chocolate, according to the American Heart Association. This dark version also contains up to three times more dietary flavonoids than milk chocolate. Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant also found in vegetables and fruits. Research has linked consuming these flavonoids with a lower risk of heart disease.
Because any chocolate is high in calories, it’s best to find small ways to indulge. Here are a few:
- Allow a small piece to melt on your tongue. It will feel more decadent and last longer.
- Serve a few small squares of dark chocolate with fruit and nuts as a dessert.
- Dip slices of banana or other fresh fruit in dark cocoa powder or melted dark chocolate.
Red Wine. If you’re raising a glass on Valentine’s Day, do a little toast to your health. Studies have shown that, in moderation, some compounds in red wine can have heart-healthy benefits. These antioxidant “good guys” are called polyphenols, and may help protect the lining of the heart’s blood vessels, according to the Mayo Clinic. The antioxidants in wine may also keep cholesterol from building up, and even increase your high-density lipoproteins, or “good cholesterol” level.
Dancing. Lots of couples do a few twirls around the dance floor to celebrate their romance. But if you want to do your heart some good, pick up the pace a little bit. A study of nearly 50,000 people in the United Kingdom showed that those who did moderately intense dancing had a 46% lower risk of dying from heart disease, compared to non-dancers. So don’t be afraid to get your heart rate up on the dance floor.
Wearing Red. Red is the signature color of Valentine’s Day, and it’s also the shade to flash on Wear Red Day each February to highlight heart disease awareness. Paying attention to your diet and exercise is one way to keep your heart healthy. But so is talking to your health care provider. Regular checkups may include a blood draw and laboratory tests to check cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which can be indicators of heart health.
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