Valentine hearts for health

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- According to Wikipedia, Valentine's Day began as a day dedicated to two martyrs named Valentine. Their deaths were both dated Feb. 14, 269 A.D.

Since then, the concept of Valentine's Day has changed greatly. Today we associate it with greeting cards and symbols of hearts and figures of the winged Cupid. Take this Valentine's Day as an opportunity to reflect on matters of the heart. By this, I mean the health of your heart.

There are several ways we can help ourselves keep our hearts healthy.

Get your blood pressure checked occasionally to make sure you do not have high blood pressure. High blood pressure can have no symptoms, so the only way to know this condition exists is to check for it.

Make sure you do not smoke. The Health and Wellness Center has smoking cessation classes and other helpful tips to help you break the habit. They are located at the Medical Group and can be contacted at 377-6662. You may also call the Alaska Quit Line. The Alaska Quit Line is free and available from anywhere within the state of Alaska at 1-888-842-7848.

Keep your weight under control and keep your total cholesterol level below 200. Eating a healthy heart diet has been shown to lower cholesterol. It is important to eat a well balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat whole grain cereals, breads and pasta. It is preferable to eat fish and poultry without the skin.

It is best to use nonfat dairy products and eat sugar foods sparingly. Less than 30 percent of your caloric intake should be fats. It is the saturated fats and trans fats which raise cholesterol. Saturated fats are found in animal products, butter and cheeses along with coconut and palm oils.

Trans fats are solid at room temperature and are found in most commercially prepared baked goods and snack foods. Try to cut back on these and instead eat the good fats found in olive oil and other vegetable oils, nuts and avocados.

Make sure you are getting regular exercise and keep your stress low. It only takes 30 minutes of exercise every other day to relieve stress and to stay in shape. This not only increases the level of good cholesterol, it lowers elevated blood pressure, prevents diabetes, strengthens bones, improves sleep, and reduces stress and feelings of depression. It can improve your sense of overall well-being.

A healthy diet and weight, exercise and living a smoke-free life will improve your overall health. Reflect on the health of your heart this Valentine's Day and feel free to use the resources at the Medical Group if you need any help reaching nutritional, exercise, and/or smoke-free lifestyle goals.