February is American Heart Month. What better time to highlight the importance of good heart health than in February, when so many individuals celebrate Valentine’s Day? This day is traditionally celebrated with expressions of love for one another through the presentation of chocolates, confections and other sweets.
Other traditional gifts include flowers and greeting cards. Common symbols used on Valentine’s Day include cupid, doves and of course…hearts. This year, when celebrating Valentine’s Day, why not treat your loved ones to the gift of good health and a truly happy heart? By incorporating some healthy changes into your traditional Valentine’s Day routine, you and your loved ones can celebrate together without sacrificing your health.
1. Limit Candy And Sweets
While so many other holidays are celebrated with candies and sweets, Valentine’s Day immediately brings to mind visions of chocolates carefully packaged in heart-shaped containers. Most of these candies are chock-full of preservatives, trans fat and chemical additives. Instead of giving these traditional gifts, get your creative juices flowing and put together a healthier treat. Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter and whip up a few batches of your loved ones favorite cookies using all natural ingredients. If you have the time and patience, try making your own chocolates using baker’s chocolate, or even dark chocolate, and heart shaped chocolate molds. Other chocolate options include:
- Chocolate-dipped strawberries and other fruits
- Chocolate-dipped pretzel rods
- Chocolate-dipped plastic spoons to be used as coffee stirrers
- Chocolate-dipped marshmallows on a stick
- Chocolate-covered almonds and other nuts
- Chocolate-covered raisins
(For more healthy alternatives to sweets, read Healthy Valentine’s Day Snacks For Kids.)
2. Get Active
Who says your Valentine’s Day has to include dinner and a movie? Skip the theater and try something more adventurous with your loved ones. If you live in a warmer climate, plan an outdoor date that will keep you active. Think outside the box and take your loved one on a nature hike that ends with a healthy picnic. Visit a local park and engage in a game of 1-on-1 volleyball or tennis. Take a trip to a local zoo or wildlife center. Challenge your loved one to a game of miniature golf.
In colder weather, look for indoor activities that will get the blood flowing and the heart pumping. Think of activities like ice-skating, a trip to a local museum (lots of walking), a cooking class (cooking burns calories), or an indoor sports complex that offers rock climbing and other activities.
3. Express Yourself
Emotional and mental health are equally as important as physical health. Learning how to express your emotions is not only good for your relationships, but can improve your overall health in two ways.
- The brain is a muscle, and just like other muscles in the body, the brain needs to be exercised to stay healthy. Tapping into emotions and learning how to communicate them effectively works those brain muscles, helping to keep them alert and healthy.
- In addition, expressing your emotions will help you maintain a healthy emotional balance, which will have a positive effect on your relationships with others. Instead of browsing through cards in our local stationary store, write your own Valentine’s Day sentiment or poem.
4. Prepare A Home-Cooked Meal
Next to Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day is the busiest day of the year for restaurants. Many restaurants offer a select menu with special meal options offered at a set price just for Valentine’s Day. These specials are often hearty dishes complete with rich sauces and heavy dressings. In addition, many of these specials will include an appetizer, soup or salad, entrée and dessert. Not only is this abundance of food unnecessary, but overeating can leave you feeling sluggish and too tired to do anything else. For a healthier Valentine’s Day meal, treat your loved one to a home-cooked meal derived from fresh, natural ingredients.
Nothing makes the heart feel better than doing a good deed and helping others who are in need. Instead of spending an intimate Valentine’s Day together, use the day to celebrate the gift of giving. There are many places where you and your loved ones can volunteer your time together, such as:
- Homeless shelters
- Nursing homes
- Foster care homes
- Food kitchens
- Domestic violence shelters
- Non-profit agencies such as Goodwill or Salvation Army
- Assisted living facilities for adults with disabilities
- Local charity groups
6. Give A Favorite Food A Healthy Make-Over
When dining in on Valentine’s Day, you can still have a healthy dinner without sacrificing your loved ones favorite home cooked meal. Instead of omitting favorite dishes altogether, implement healthy cooking techniques and substitute healthier ingredients. Some examples of ways in which you can create a healthier version of your favorite meal include:
- Bake, broil and grill instead of frying.
- Avoid canned vegetables and use fresh or frozen instead.
- Skip premade marinades and dressings and make your own.
- Purchase lean cuts of meat to reduce fat.
- Use fresh ingredients in place of prepared ones (fresh lemons instead of lemon juice concentrate, fresh garlic cloves instead of dried garlic, etc.)
- Opt for fresh herbs and seasonings instead of jarred varieties.
(For more tips on eating healthier, read 10 Easy Ways To Eat Healthier To Stay Happy And Fit.)
7. Create A Home-Made Gift
Valentine’s Day does not have to be synonymous with expensive, store-bought gifts. Home-made gifts are not only inexpensive, but they are a way for you to customize a gift to your loved ones taste and personal style. Decide what personality trait you want to highlight and then create a homemade gift that reflects that trait. For example, if your loved one can’t get enough costume jewelry, make her some homemade earring holders by drilling holes in a used CD or DVD and attaching a ribbon at the top for hanging. For a car lover, scour different websites for pictures of classic cars from your loved ones birth year, and create a homemade calendar complete with all of his personal information such as birthdays and anniversaries. These types of homemade gifts are more meaningful than store bought items and can do wonders for the health of your relationship.
8. Drink Only In Moderation
A glass of red wine with dinner can help you and your loved one relax at the end of the day. But there can be too much of a good thing, and drinking too much wine or alcohol can leave you feeling less than relaxed the following morning. Besides, your Valentine’s Day will be much less enjoyable for both you and your loved one, if the night is spent trying to accommodate someone who has had one too many. Enjoy an alcoholic beverage with your loved one at dinner if you like, but limit yourself to no more than two drinks.
9. Be Prepared When Traveling
If you and your loved ones will be traveling for Valentine’s Day, remember that preparation is the key to a happy trip. Make sure to pack all necessary items, such as:
- Passports and other required travel documents
- Prescription medications
- Important phone numbers
- Camera and video camera
- Any other items you can’t live without while you are away
Taking the time to be prepared before you leave can mean the difference between a nice, relaxing get away and a trip that raises your blood pressure and leaves you feeling more stressed than before you left.
10. Don’t Overdo It
Regardless of how you choose to spend your Valentine’s Day, be sure not to overdo it. Your loved ones will not measure your love for them by the amount of stress you place on yourself in hopes of creating the perfect day. There’s no need to try to recreate the 5 course meal from last week’s episode on a famous cooking show, your loved ones will be just as happy with a simple, one dish meal and a delicious, creamy dessert. Moderation is key, and keeping things fun, yet simple, is your ticket to a stress-free Valentine’s Day that will leave you both healthy and happy.