by Jenny Gaal, Fitness Director

February is American Heart Month. What better time to highlight the importance of good heart health than in February! This day is traditionally celebrated with expressions of love for one another through the presentation of chocolates, confections and other sweets. However, by incorporating some healthy changes into your traditional Valentine’s Day routine, you and your loved ones can celebrate together without sacrificing your health. Best in Fitness, Jenny Gaal

  1. Limit Sugars

The return of sugar…. Didn’t we just get through the holidays?  I know the packaged chocolates in heart-shaped containers are almost irresistible!  Keep in mind most of these candies are chock-full of preservatives, trans fat and chemical additives. Instead of giving these traditional gifts try a heart-shaped cookie cutter and whip up a few batches of your loved ones favorite cookies using all natural  and heart healthy ingredients, such as, apple sauce instead of butter/oil/eggs. If

  1. Get Active

Who says your Valentine’s Day has to include dinner and a movie? Try incorporating activity with a nature hike that ends with a healthy picnic, walking the local zoo or challenge the family to a game of dodge ball or miniature golf to keep the blood flowing and your metabolism.

  1. Express Yourself

Emotional and mental health is 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.
  1. Prepare A Home-Cooked Meal

A healthier Valentine’s Day home-cooked meal from fresh, natural ingredients is a treat your loved ones will appreciate.

  1. Volunteer

Nothing makes the heart feel better than doing a good deed and helping others who are in need. There are many places where you and your loved ones can volunteer your time together, such as:

  • Homeless shelters
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Foster care homes
  • Churches
  • Food kitchens
  • Domestic violence shelters
  • Non-profit agencies such as Goodwill or Salvation Army
  • Assisted living facilities for adults with disabilities
  • Local charity groups
  1. Give A Favorite Food A Healthy Make-Over

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.

Eat Clean

by Jenny Gaal, Fitness Director

Think these “healthy” foods are helping you lose weight or eat better? Here’s why they’re not as nutritious as you think.

Package Turkey:

Yes, turkey is good lean protein, and on a sandwich with whole-grain and lettuce, tomato, and other veggies isn’t a bad lunch choice. The problem here is sodium; a two-ounce serving of some brands has as much as nearly one-third of your recommended limit. Try to buy low-sodium slices (look for less than 350 mg sodium per two-ounce serving) or roast and slice your own meat.
Energy Bars:

If you’re going to eat them, pick ones with fewer than 200 calories and 20 grams of sugar per serving. Also key: Read labels to choose bars with as few ingredients as possible. Some bars from brands like KIND and Larabar contain just nuts, dried fruit, and seeds.


Bran Muffins:

Many bran muffins have more calories and sugar than a donut. While bran itself is a healthy whole grain source of fiber, it becomes less nutritious when baked into a muffin with heaps of sugar, flour, and fat. If you’re really craving a muffin, make them yourself and look for recipes that use whole wheat flour and substitute applesauce for butter.

Flavored Instant Oatmeal:

Flavored packets have more sugar and sodium than regular rolled or steel cut oats. A better option: Dress up regular oatmeal with fresh fruit or a small amount of honey.

Reduced-fat Peanut Butter:

The fat from nuts is good for you! The reduced-fat versions add more sugar to make up for the lack of fat. So choose the regular kind, and stick to 1 to 2 tablespoons per serving.


Trail Mix:

Most nutritionists will advise you to snack on a combination of carbs, protein, and fiber for sustained energy—and trail mix seems like a perfect example. Try to avoid the versions with yogurt-covered raisins, deep-fried banana chips, sesame sticks, or salty nuts or make a healthy mix yourself with mainly nuts and seeds and a little high-cacao dark chocolate and dried fruit.

With fewer calories and fat grams than most chips, pretzels seem healthy. But nearly every brand of pretzels is made from the same basic nutrition-less ingredients: white flour—wheat flour that’s been stripped of its nutrients and fiber—yeast, salt, and maybe some vegetable oil or corn syrup. Try looking for a brand made with whole wheat flour or eating whole grain crackers, soy crisps, or popcorn instead.


Spinach Wraps and Pasta:

Don’t let the green color fool you. The actual amount of spinach in these green tortillas and noodles is trivial compared with what you would get if you added your own spinach leaves to your wrap or pasta dish.

Bottled Green Tea:

Many brands of bottled tea sold in stores contain almost no ECGC, the potent antioxidant linked to cancer prevention and weight loss. If you are drinking tea to lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis and a whole list of other degenerative conditions, brew your own.