By February 1, New Year’s resolutions are usually forgotten. The struggle to eat healthy is real, with commercials advertising the health benefits of whatever they’re selling and a new diet popping up every week promising instant results. It’s easy for the best intentions of eating healthy to diminish as life doesn’t pause for busy people with good intentions. But keeping a focus on healthy eating and exercise is important throughout the year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes happen every year in the U.S. and heart disease is one of the top causes of death. We can’t change our genetics that may increase our heart disease risk, but we can change and modify our lifestyle.
Ways to love your heart
Coinciding with Valentine’s Day, the American Heart Association’s Heart Health Awareness Month reminds people to love their heart to help decrease their risk for heart disease and stroke. Making simple changes is a great way to start. Here are some quick and easy ways to love your heart:
- Weight loss: VA offers the MOVE! program to help people who are overweight lose weight. MOVE! has helped thousands of Veterans eat healthier, exercise, and improve their health using evidenced-based nutrition. Contact your VA provider or dietitian to join today.
- Physical activity: Exercise has so many benefits for your heart. Here are some indoor activities to incorporate during this season where people stay inside most days. Please consult your provider before implementing any exercise routine.
- Diet: Making small, sustainable changes to your diet can improve your risk of chronic disease. Anti-inflammatory foods are a great way to start. Trying the Mediterranean Diet is a good way to increase your intake of these anti-inflammatory foods.
VA dietitians are here to help you decrease your risk of heart disease with individual counseling, group classes, healthy teaching kitchen classes, TeleHealth/TeleMOVE and so much more. Contact your local VA facility to find out what options would be best for you.
Heart healthy choices for your sweet tooth
Emerging research shows supporting evidence that chocolate might be a heart-healthy food. Harvard University School of Public Health reports that flavanols found in cocoa show positive benefits for your heart, lowering blood pressure and have anti-inflammatory benefits (The Nutrition Source). The best sources are pure cocoa and dark chocolate, 70 percent content and higher. But keep in mind, the higher content of cocoa, the more bitter the taste will be.
Before you buy a box of chocolates to celebrate Valentine’s Day and “protect your heart,” make sure you read the label. Choose dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa, avoid chocolates processed with alkali (as this can decrease heart-healthy flavanol content), and avoid chocolate with too much added sugar. Lastly, remember moderation is key to your heart health (always check the serving size of your chocolate). Grab a piece of dark chocolate this Valentine’s Day and show your heart some love.
Cheryl Monroe is a Clinical Dietitian at the Jack C. Montgomery VA in Muskogee, Oklahoma. She has a passion for health and loves working with Veterans. She is married with 6 kids and 5 grandchildren. She enjoys hanging out with her family, reading, listening to music, and spoiling her grandchildren.