I have always enjoyed Valentine’s Day, regardless of my relationship status. It’s fitting to have a day devoted to love and warmth during a month that is generally bitterly cold. Anyone who lives in the Northeast, where we just weathered the wrath of Nemo, can agree that we could use a little sweetness right now! My parents have always been my Valentines, I get something from them every year no matter where I am. This year, I received in the mail a box of vegan, gluten-free, organic Peanut Butter Cream Chocolates. I must say, this is quite the divergence from the classic Whitman’s Sampler! I found this to be such a wonderful example of real love and kindness; they have seen my passion for health and in turn have been so supportive in my quest to help not only others but also myself in achieving total body wellness. This small gift shows how much they respect my choices and goals and I can’t thank them enough for that!
Alright, enough sappiness, let’s get down to business. The heart is a magnificent organ, one we take for granted more than we should. Understandably so, it carries on about its business without you having to do anything. In fact, in the amount of time it took you to read that first paragraph, it continued to beat at a steady rhythm about 75 times. And you didn’t even have to tell it to! However, if we don’t care for our hearts properly, it will begin to deteriorate and lose its ability to function. There are a few simple things you can start doing right now to help ensure your heart has everything it needs to continue performing its amazing duties for many years to come.
Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and minimal processed foods is the best way to keep your heart strong. If you want to give it some extra love, which I hope you do because it sure deserves it, be sure to incorporate a few select nutrients into your diet.
1.Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids because our bodies do not make them independently so we must get them from an outside source. They are thought to reduce inflammation in the body, specifically in the blood vessels, so that blood can flow easily to and from the heart. Good sources of these fatty acids include oatmeal, oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel, walnuts, legumes like lentils, chickpeas and black beans, and flaxseeds.
2. Good fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, lowers LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) which reduces your risk for developing heart disease. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, almonds, and macadamia nuts are excellent sources. The amazing superfood in this group is the avocado; it also lowers LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol (the good kind). Additionally, they aid in the absorption of other nutrients like beta-carotene (found in carrots) and lycopene (found in tomatoes), so be sure to add some to your salad!
3. Lutein, potassium, folate and fiber are all essential for helping to keep your ticker strong. Luckily for us, there is one food out there that contains all of these fabulous nutrients: spinach. Not a fan? That’s ok, just upping your servings of any veggies you like is sure to help out your heart. The Physicians’ Health Study examined more than 15,000 men without heart disease for a period of 12 years. Those who ate at least two-and-a-half servings of vegetables each day cut their risk of heart disease by about 25%, compared with those who didn’t eat the veggies. Each additional serving reduced risk by another 17%!
4. Don’t feel guilty about indulging in some chocolate this Thursday (or any day, really) as long as it’s the good stuff. A National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Family Heart study showed that people who ate chocolate five times per week were 49% less likely to have heart disease than those who ate no chocolate. Apparently I knew this subconsciously because I’ve been eating chocolate every day for ages now! Not all chocolate is the same though, you want to make sure to select pure chocolate, Snickers don’t count. The key ingredient to look for is cocoa solids, the higher the cocoa solids, the higher the antioxidant effect. Studies have shown that chocolate containing 70% cocoa solids have twice the antioxidants as 35%. When choosing your bar, make sure you read the label and pick the one that says 70% or higher to reap the most benefit.
In addition to feeding your heart what it needs, you want to make sure it gets a good workout too. You’d think since it’s pumping away all day long that it wouldn’t need any more exercise, right? Since your heart is a muscle, it’s important to keep it strong so it can do it’s job more efficiently. Think of it like any other muscle in your body, your bicep for instance, we lift weights in order to build it up and help it support our bones and our movements throughout life. If we don’t challenge it it will get loose and flabby and do very little to aid us in living a full, active life. In the same vein (ha!), if we don’t give our heart the proper exercise, it won’t have the strength to keep us keepin’ on. There are varying theories as to how much and at what intensity you should exercise, but in my opinion, 30 minutes a day is all you really need to keep your heart up to par. If you’re not a fan of treadmills or stationary bikes, you can try a brisk walk around your neighborhood, an aerobics or cardio dance class, or just turn on some jams and dance around your living room? I’m a huge supporter of spontaneous living room dancing.
So we’ve discussed how the heart needs help in order to function at its physical best, but what about helping it to stay emotionally and spiritually strong? The heart chakra, also called Anahata in the Yogic tradition, symbolizes the consciousness of love, empathy, selflessness and devotion. Those words are the ones we most associate with the heart on Valentine’s Day, not aorta or valve, thankfully. If that were the case, our universally recognized Valentines hearts would look less like this
Not as appealing. So clearly, it’s important to nurture these qualities in ourselves lest they also get loose and flabby. These are our emotional biceps! One way to help maintain our emotional and spiritual wellness is to lessen the amount of stress in our daily lives. Not only does stress affect our hearts on a physical level, by increasing your heart rate and blood pressure which could lead to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke, but it also causes us to feel overworked, tired, unmotivated to be active and may even lead to extreme unhappiness or depression. How can we feel love, compassion and devotion if our hearts are too weak to support it? Take some time out of your day to focus on your breath, even if it’s just 5 minutes. Sit in a quiet space and have a moment to yourself where you can tune out all the noise around you and just be. I know that’s easier said than done in today’s hectic society, but if you make a commitment to practice it once every day, you will begin to see that those little moments of calm and peace will help lift your spirits and re-energize you as you continue through your day.
Another important factor in taking care of our emotional heart is to practice self-love. We’ve all heard that you can’t truly love another until you love yourself, and as cliche as that sounds, it’s incredibly accurate. One of my favorite blogs to follow is Mastin Kipp’s The Daily Love, a wonderful collection of stories and quotes about love in all its forms, as well as an open and accepting community for those in need of inspiration and guidance. One of his recent posts dealt with the struggle so many of us are experiencing in our quest to grow spiritually; in our desire to become more spiritual, we forget to be human. He says, “What does being more spiritual really mean? To me, it means simply to be more loving. And when we are more loving towards ourselves and others, then the direct result of this is to become more human.” I highly recommend you read his full post here http://thedailylove.com/heres-how-to-be-more-spiritual/, it really woke me up and I thank him for that gift.
No matter how you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, or not celebrate it at all, I hope you’ll take the time during that day to tell someone you love them. Starting with the person in the mirror.