What is Valentine's Day if not a holiday to make your heart happy?
So in honor of St. Valentine — who according to Catholic.org is the patron saint of "affianced couples, beekeepers, epilepsy, happy marriages, love and lovers" — we suggest a few ways to be kind to your heart and be nice to yourself at the same time.
Perhaps the easiest happiness comes from a good laugh. Mary Bennett, director of nursing at Western Kentucky University, has studied the impact of laughing on the immune system among cancer patients. Short synopsis: It seems to help.
Her study also showed that laughter can help lower blood pressure and increase respiration, and it "improves the emotional feeling of well-being."
After a good chuckle, what to do?
Kathleen Stanley, a diabetes educator at Central Baptist Hospital, suggested a tasty Mediterranean-style meal or a romantic walk. Other suggestions in our list of 14 (get it?) are culled from places like the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.
Fun Fact: The idea that chocolate is good for the heart came from the study of the Kuna Indians, who live on islands off the coast of Panama. These folks weren't exactly downing Dove bars, but rather drinking a chocolate confection mostly of dried leaves and water. What that drink has in common with the chocolate available at CVS is this: flavanols. Dark chocolate is considered the most healthful.
Share the holiday with that furry source of unconditional love — your canine companion. Grab the leash and take a walk, or go to your local dog park. The two of you might even sniff out some new friendships. FriendsoftheDogPark.org offers a good list of places to go in Lexington.
Eat a frozen yogurt at your favorite store, pick the fruit toppings, skip the candies and order a small. One ounce of blueberry at Orange Leaf is just 28 calories.
Sip some black tea. It's made from the same Camellia sinesis plant that produces green tea when the leaves are fresh but has some different properties and is heart-healthy.Say Wii
Yes, playing tennis by yourself in your den can be good for you, even if it makes your cat a little crazy. The American Heart Association has declared that Nintendo's motion-sensor-based Wii Fit Plus and Wii Sports Resort is just as good as hitting the gym — and it helps your heart. The catch: You have to play with moderate intensity at least 150 minutes a week.
Enjoy some quality time with that special someone indulging in that old-fashioned mood elevator: sex. Studies have shown that the accompanying endorphin rush can be not only good but good for you. Men who do this two or more times a week are 65 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease, compared with those who have sex less than once a month, according to a New England Research Institute study.
A weekend away from the hustling hubbub of the city and the nagging voices of "clean me" of the dust bunnies under the couch can be just the thing. The Valentine's specials at several of Kentucky's state parks extend beyond the actual holiday. Go to Parks.Ky.gov.
Sauté for two
Cook together with those you love or at least love to feed, enjoying lean meat and fresh vegetables. On Twitter, follow Whole Foods, @wholefoods, and get delicious and healthy recipes. (Think smoked salmon and creme fraiche lemon pasta.)
Good company can help reduce stress, so reach out at least once a day. We'll count Pinterest.com for the sake of argument, but real-life contact is best. A nice cup of black tea or frozen yogurt, perhaps, with a pal?Sip, shape
Here's the one you've been waiting for: Have a nice glass of red wine. According to National Institutes of Health, having two to seven drinks a week, red wine in particular, can help the heart. That would be two or three ounces at a sitting.
You might be too old to go skipping through the park — or not, we don't judge — but remember all those things you like to do? Crochet, plan your summer garden, watch a silly old movie (Clueless counts as old), scrapbook, break out the beer-making paraphernalia ... anything that gives your heart a little smiley feeling.
Think of others
There's a reason volunteers always seem to be smiling. You help yourself when you help others. The United Way of the Bluegrass could be a good place to start. Go to UWBG.org and click "volunteer" for some ideas of how to help.
Say it nicely
Be kind, especially to yourself. A major source of stress is caused by the things we tell ourselves. Here are some suggestions for how to change a stressful conversation to a gentle one. Try: "I can get help if I need it;" "I won't let this problem get me down;" "Things could be worse;" "I'm human, and we all make mistakes."
Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: bluegrassmoms.com