Have you ever wondered how cut-out hearts, chocolates, and flowers became associated with Valentine’s Day? St. Valentine was an early Christian martyr of whom many myths and legends are attributed. It is said that he ministered to Christians when it was prohibited by the Roman government. He performed marriages for Roman soldiers who were forbidden to marry.
While he was imprisoned he healed the blind daughter of his own jailer and before he was executed wrote her a note signed, “Your Valentine.” Like many ancient stories, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. For instance, there were several early Christian martyrs who shared this name. And it wasn’t until the medieval era that his feast day became associated with romantic love.
“The moment you have in your heart this extraordinary thing called love and feel the depth, the delight, the ecstasy of it, you will discover that for you the world is transformed.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
While a number of different symbols eventually became associated with the feeling of love, none is more ubiquitous than the heart. This muscle beating within all of our chests doesn’t look even remotely like the doodle lining the margins of many teenage girls’ notebooks so how did the heart become associated with romantic love?
Many early cultures associated the heart with the center of human emotion. The Egyptians believed that the soul was housed in the heart and it controlled will, thought, emotion, and intention. This is reflected in their word for happiness which translates literally as “wideness of heart.” Ancient Chinese, Hebrew, and East Indian cultures all made similar associations.
While most of these associations aren’t grounded in biology, the heart will forever be the symbol of love. So why not use this Valentine’s Day to make a commitment to your own heart and those who love you.
Focus on American Heart Month for Valentine’s Day.
February is also American Heart Month. What better time to focus on the center of love and emotion than right around Valentine’s Day?
According to the Centers for Diseases Control (CDC), over 600,000 people die of heart disease each year. Heart disease is actually the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Heart attacks happen to 720,000 individuals. Over 200,000 of these are experienced by people who have already suffered a heart attack in the past.
Especially for patients already coping with the difficulties of chronic pain, it is important to recognize that heart disease is mostly preventable. Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help reduce pain caused by your condition but it can also keep you from succumbing to heart disease in the future.
Here are a few ways you can prevent heart disease:
- Quit smoking: While most people associate cigarettes with lung health and cancer it is also one of the leading contributors to heart disease. The chemicals used in cigarettes cause damage to the heart and blood vessels. Smoking also infuses the body with carbon monoxide which causes high blood pressure and raises the risk of heart attack or stroke. Quitting can actually reduce your chances of developing heart disease almost immediately. Work with a specialist to help increase your chances of success.
- Exercise more: Just 30 minutes a day can help you decrease your risk of heart disease. Physical activity helps strengthen the heart and keep your weight at a healthier level. If you’re not used to exercise it is recommended to start slow. Add low-impact exercises such as walking, yoga, or swimming to your routine and steadily increase the amount that makes you comfortable. Even better news is that your regular physical activities, like gardening, walking the dog, or going up and down the stairs in your house actually counts toward your daily goals. Keep a pedometer on you to determine your success rate each day.
- Eat better: Food may be one of your biggest allies in the fight against heart disease. Fruits, vegetables, low fat proteins, and many types of fish are great for your overall heart health. It is also important to reduce or eliminate unhealthy fats from your diet. These include saturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fat. Instead, replace red meat with fatty fish like salmon and add natural, plant based proteins and fats, such as nuts and avocados. Red wine can also be healthy for your heart but be sure to drink moderately for the best results. All of this should, of course be paired with maintaining a healthy weight and overall lifestyle.
- Get sleep: Sleep deprivation is actually an epidemic in our county. It can cause risky behaviors such as driving while drowsy which can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, a lack of sleep can also cause high blood pressure, increased risk of obesity, and heart disease. How do you know if you’re getting enough sleep? If you wake up refreshed without an alarm clock, you’re doing fine. If you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, you probably need more sleep. The best thing you can do is create a sleep schedule and stick to it. Go to bed the same time every day. Before turning off the light give yourself a routine that tells your brain it is time to rest.
Other preventative measures you can take include testing for heart disease markers and tracking your family history. Get screened for high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes.
How will you protect your heart this Valentine’s Day?
Image By Larkyn T. via Flickr