Valentine’s Day brings hearts and chocolates, romantic thoughts and perhaps the bittersweet memory of young love lost. Heartache is a pain like no other, utterly indescribable to one untouched by romantic catastrophe. The heart has been the center of the human intellect and our very soul for 99 percent of human history. No less than Aristotle taught reason and love emanated from the heart. Makes sense, that’s where you feel the pain of heartbreak.
The familiar red heart symbol dates back at least 3,000 years and is believed to originate from the shape of mating swans necks, or more colorfully, women’s buttocks. The color red is assumed to come from the color of blood.
We know a lot more about curing heartache from clogged arteries than, unfortunately, unrequited love.
The physical side of the heart is simply a pump, weighing just over half a pound and making blood go round and round. It is built like the energizer bunny and is good for 2, 3, occasionally even 3.5 billion beats. The heart, perhaps unfortunately, doesn’t get its oxygen from the blood in the heart, but rather from coronary arteries outside the heart. Blood and oxygen to the heart muscle go from the outside in, not, as commonly believed, the inside out. A somewhat precarious arrangement, as these coronary arteries tend to clog.
Making the heart last a long time is all about the quality of the heart you are born with, and maintenance, like so many other things in life. Hard to change build-quality without picking your parents. (If we get to pick our parents I want to be taller, smarter and better looking while I’m at it – why just improve the inside?). Maintenance however, is at least as important as what you get to start with.
Avoiding a “broken heart” is a worthwhile exercise, as heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. Speaking of exercise … yes, exercise is one of the most important things you can do to keep your heart in good working condition. Exercise is actually a “three-fer.” Exercise lowers your blood pressure, helps you lose weight and raises your good cholesterol. If blood pressure and cholesterol are still out of sorts despite exercise, they can be lowered with medication.
It is probably occurring to you that how you live has a lot to do with your risk of heart disease. Blood pressure, cholesterol, body weight and diabetes are all worsened by the typical high fat/high calorie American diet. Until recently, a lot of heavy meals were finished off with coffee and a cigarette or two. Smoking is rapidly dying out. Fortunately coffee isn’t bad for you.
But, despite so much negativity, life still needs to be a little fun – especially on Valentine’s Day. Alcohol and dark chocolate are good for your heart. A glass of wine with a healthy dinner should help you not miss the double cheeseburger quite as much; and a piece of chocolate for dessert should satisfy the sweet tooth of your sweetheart.
So flowers, red wine and chocolate are romantic and heart-healthy Valentine’s Day gifts, and remember, a little romance also counts as exercise.
Take Care and Happy Valentine’s Day.