UCLA Campus    |   UCLA Health    |   School of Medicine Translate:
UCLA Health It Begins With U

Health and Medicine Newsroom

Have a Heart Healthy Valentine's Day: Gift, Food and Activity Ideas
Date: 01/21/2010
Contact: Rachel Champeau and Amy Albin ()
Phone: 310-794-0777

Celebrate with a Loved One, Friends or a Pet

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women nationwide so keep heart healthy foods, gifts and activities in mind this Valentine's Day. 

"There are lots of delicious and heart healthy foods that can be part of a special Valentine's Day meal or treat," said Susan Bowerman, M.S., R.D., assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition.  

Healthy Food, Gift and Meal Tips 

  • Start your Valentine's meal with a colorful mixed salad that includes heart-healthy fats such as avocado and an olive oil vinaigrette.
  • Plan a delicious seafood entrée. Fish has much less saturated fat than red meat, and provides one of the best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids to support heart health.
  • Tree nuts are another source of healthy fats. Toss a handful of pistachio nuts, walnuts or almonds into your salad or cooked veggies for added health and flavor.
  • Red-purple foods are a natural on Valentine's Day, and they are rich in antioxidant polyphenols that are heart-healthy. Have some red wine with your meal, or try some festive, ruby-red pomegranate juice.
  • Chocolate is another natural for the holiday, either as part of a meal or as a gift. Opt for a small piece of plain dark, bittersweet chocolate, rather than white chocolate, milk chocolate, or chocolate desserts that have much less of the beneficial compounds known to help the heart. 

Heart Healthy Activities 

UCLA cardiologist Dr. Karol Watson says that social connections help reduce stress on the heart, so spend your Valentine's Day with a loved one, friends and family or a beloved pet.  

"Just spending time with someone or a special animal can be good for your heart," adds Watson, associate professor of cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.  "Much of heart disease can be prevented so it is very important to follow a healthy lifestyle and to control your cardiovascular risk factors." 

Here are some additional tips:  

Heart to Heart.  Spend Valentine's Day volunteering, which has been shown in studies to offer positive emotional benefits by connecting with others that can be good for the heart.  

Get your heart pumping. Take a walk with a loved one on Valentine's Day. New recommendations for a healthy heart are to participate in aerobic exercise for 30 to 60 minutes daily. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight and keeps your heart strong and disease free. 

Follow your heart.  Your loved ones will appreciate you taking care of your heart throughout the year.  Remember to get the appropriate cardiac screenings that you need for cholesterol levels and blood pressure. 

Listen to your heart. Heart symptoms such as palpitations, may mean something.  So pay attention and check with your doctor. 

Heartaches. Be aware if you are experiencing chest pain and know the symptoms of a heart attack.  Also keep in mind that cardiac symptoms can feel different for men and women.  

Change of heart.   Quit smoking since it markedly increases the risk of heart attacks and heart failure. Reduce stress by finding a positive outlet, like exercise, meditation and spending time with family and friends.  These activities can relieve stress and also improve your health.  

And, don't forget the kids on Valentine's Day!  

"The road to heart disease starts at an early age," said Dr. Thomas Klitzner, professor of pediatric cardiology at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA. "However, with regular exercise, eating well, and not smoking, children can form heart-healthy habits to help protect them from future heart attacks and strokes."   

Klitzner suggests the following tips: 

  • Instead of candy, exchange Valentine's Day cards, flowers or other small gifts. 
  • Celebrate with family and friends with a healthy meal that includes fresh fruits or vegetables. 
  • Use Valentine's Day and February heart health awareness month as an opportunity to commit to getting outside and moving around for at least 30 minutes every day. 

-UCLA-