February is American Heart Month…and not so coincidentally also contains Valentine’s Day. While American Heart Month is intended to educate and motivate each and every one of us to think more deeply about our health and how to make heart-healthy lifestyle choices…I am still sitting here thinking about the two staples of my past valentine day gift giving…large amounts of chocolate candy and red wine.
Are these healthy lifestyle choices I am making? Probably not, but they aren’t as unhealthy as I might have previously thought. We have known for a while now that adults who drink light to moderate amounts of alcohol may be less likely to develop heart disease. Why is this? According to the Mayo Clinic Red Wine contains many antioxidants and something called resveratrol. These substances may help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL, the “good” cholesterol) and help prevent damage to blood vessels. Remember, light to moderate amounts of alcohol are beneficial, too much alcohol can have many harmful effects on your body.
What about chocolate, the staple of Valentine’s Day candy? Well, a study that was published in Heart Journal in June of 2015 indicated that middle-aged and older adults who eat up to 3.5 ounces of chocolate a day seem to have lower rates of heart disease. Most of the previous studies on the chocolate-heart connection found that only dark chocolate offered any cardiovascular protection. In the study published in Heart, any type of chocolate, including milk chocolate, seemed to have the same beneficial effect.
While this is all good news to those of us whose imaginations limit us to chocolate or wine as gifts for our valentines…the CDC reminds us that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women and that the best gift this Valentine’s Day is the gift of heart health. This means in addition to our annual chocolate and wine binge we should consider making small changes that can lead to a lifetime of heart health.
- Schedule a visit with your doctor
- Add exercise to your daily routine
- Increase healthy eating (beyond the chocolate and wine)
- If you are a smoker, consider taking steps to quit smoking
I am sure my own doctor won’t write a prescription for chocolate and wine, but I think he would agree that these small changes will help you to continue to celebrate Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month well into the future.