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Take Heart: A Lover’s Guide to Living Longer

by Marilynn Preston

With Valentine’s Day on your mind, not to mention your lips and hips, it’s a good time to take to heart four strategies you can embrace — starting today! — to make your ticker stronger and last longer.

Why? For starters, self care is the king of cost-saving measures. A healthy heart doesn’t need a $100,000 bypass or drugs that cost a fortune for reasons Big Pharma can’t really explain.

Everyone’s heard about HDL and LDL when it comes to a healthy heart, but here’s something your doctor neglects to mention because it’s not part of his Western medical training: A healthy heart is a loving heart, a generous heart, a forgiving heart.

Those aren’t just vague psychological concepts. Love, generosity and forgiveness are three well-researched heart-healthy practices you can do every day. And here — for your St. Valentine’s Day reading pleasure — are a few more to consider:

BE MORE ACTIVE. I’m almost embarrassed to lead with this because it’s such a cliche. Too bad — the truth is the truth. Physical activity — at home, in a gym, at work, even minutes a day, every day — is a must if you want to nurture a healthier heart. So please — better than having to take statins, better then needing a pacemaker — get focused and get moving. (Bonus points if you do it outdoors, in nature.)

Walking! Swing dancing! Bicycling! Tennis! Dynamic Dusting! No list of workouts is complete without my personal favorite yoga, a proven 5,000-year-old recipe for nourishing a vibrant heart in a most satisfying, seductive way.

Your ultimate goal is to be active enough to boost your cardiovascular fitness, using aerobic sports to push your pulse into your target heart zone for 20-30 minutes a session, at least three times a week. Cardiovascular fitness — a strong heart and healthy lungs — is your No. 1 defense against heart disease. Just going from a sedentary lifestyle to a more active one has profound health benefits. Start where you are.

LET GO OF ANGER. Who pushed your button today? Your boss? Your roommate? The driver who sideswiped your bike and kept going? It’s so easy to get ticked off these days. But consider this: If you hold on to anger, in your mind and body, it takes a toll on your heart. Feelings of anger, guilt, jealousy and envy are what brain scientists and psychologists call negative emotions, and over time, they can depress your immune system, drain your energy and weaken your heart.

So this Valentine’s Day, find a way to let go of your anger. It’s not giving approval to what he or she did. It’s a show of strength and compassion that says, “I’m not your victim.” You can’t give yourself a sweeter valentine than that.

EAT SMARTER. Extra pounds weigh heavily on your heart. To lighten your load, you need to eat in a more enlightened way. Bouncing from diet to diet is such an unconscious way to live. Diets are all about denial and deprivation, and as soon as you go off your diet, you are bound to regain the weight.

Instead, this Valentine’s Day, hold your hands over your heart and vow to consume healthy portions of real food, cleanly grown: more fruits and vegetables; more whole grains; less red meat; a lot less sugar — you know the drill.

Read labels. Out with the processed foods that bloat your belly and clog your innards; in with home-cooked meals using the freshest, most local ingredients you can find. Don’t depend on supplements or fasts to power up your heart. It thrives on pure food, real food, prepared with love, eaten slowly, with awareness and gratitude.

OPEN YOUR HEART TO OTHERS.  Your heart is the emotional core of your body, and the more you open it to others — helping, listening, encouraging, laughing — the stronger it will be. If you don’t know where your heart center is located, start the hunt this Valentine’s Day. Donate your time to a favorite nonprofit. Call a family elder and take her out for the day. Help a friend clean his garage.

If you still can’t find your heart center, email me for further directions.

Marilynn Preston — healthy lifestyle coach and Emmy-winning producer — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website marilynnpreston.com.

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