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.