The real queen — or king — of hearts 

Keeping your best and first true love happy

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Heart of stone. Heartache or, worse, heartbreak. Heartfelt thanks. Heart of the forest, heart of life itself, and more.

Hearts, in all their permutations, are powerful symbols in our culture and our psyches. And every Valentine's Day, zillions of gloriously red paper hearts rule.

But when it comes to our own heroic little human hearts, which should be at the top of our "must-love" list, they're usually overlooked February 14 and beyond. Until something goes wrong.

Heart disease is the No.2 cause of death in Canada. (Cancer is still No. 1.) Every seven minutes in Canada, someone dies from heart disease or stroke. More women are dying from cardiovascular disease than men. And more than half of Canadians report that someone close to them has had heart disease.

A comprehensive new report just out from Canada's Heart and Stroke Foundation points out trends like these, and more. It looks at 60 years of research and improvements in Canadians' heart health. For instance, in the '50s and '60s if you landed in the hospital with a heart attack there was a 65-70 per cent chance you'd live. Now it's 95 per cent.

Increasing survival rates due to vast improvements in prevention, diagnosis and treatment is the good news, but there's bad news, too.

Diabetes rates in heart attack patients have skyrocketed to 31 per cent from 17 per cent in a matter of decades. Sixty per cent of adult Canadians are now overweight or obese. Obesity rates in children have tripled over 30 years (and we all know extra weight is so hard on our hearts). As well, the number of women with heart disease has risen.

As always, poor diet along with a lack of physical activity are leading risk factors for our hearts.

So besides loading our Valentines up on creamy cupcakes or baked chocolate doughnuts with a magic shell coating and little red hearts, what can we feed our poor little beating hearts that proves we really love them? (That'll be more than three billion times they beat if you live to be 80, a lot of work for a muscle that weighs only some 200 grams in women, about the same weight as two average chocolate bars; and maybe 300 grams in men.)

If you're a die-hard believer in aphrodisiacs, those larger than life legends that promise to make you feel, well, larger than life, you might put raw oysters front and centre on Valentine's Day, their reputation as Love Potion No. 9 out-classing the traditional North American love-dinner offering of steak and/or lobster.

Oysters are swell. They're the richest animal source of vitamins and minerals, and their biggest aphrodisiacal asset is their high level of zinc, which aids in the production of testosterone in men and estrogen in women.

But don't think they, or any particular food proves your love, at least for your heart.

Christine LeGrand, a health scientist with the Heart and Stroke Foundation's health policy department, says there's no single food that is going to be healthful for your heart.

It's the balance you eat day-to-day. If you are going to enjoy any one thing occasionally, that's OK, but...

"It's your diet every day that matters. It's not a single food that is going to protect you," she says. And what matters is your portion size along with the amount of sugar, added sodium, and trans/saturated fats. In all these instances, less is more.

You also want to eat a variety of foods from the four food groups — meat/fish, dairy, grains, fruits and veggies — with at least five to 10 servings of fruits and veggies a day, the more raw the better if you can swing it because they'll have more nutrients and minerals in addition to the fibre that's so good for your lovely little heart. Just don't mistake a big bag of potato chips or anything coated in oil and salt as a good idea.

And as we all think about where to take our loved ones out for dinner for Valentine's Day, here's a twist.

Try to cook and eat at home with fresh whole foods! Yes it's fun to eat out once in a while, including Valentine's, but the whole idea is to try not to eat out as much or reach for those fast, processed, "convenience" foods that are the nemesis of healthy, happy hearts.

"Enjoy the time and cook together and share those moments. Try something new in the kitchen that you can prepare yourself," she says. "You're doing something good for your heart, something good for your partner and for yourself, and you're enjoying quality time together."

This Valentine's Day, Christine and her daughter will be enjoying a family dinner of chili with lots of veggies and legumes after her daughter's hockey game.

You can whip up something just as healthy. How about a salad Montego from Jamaica or kung pao chicken and veggies? The Heart and Stroke Foundation website has a bunch of heart-y recipes like these. Go to www.heartandstroke.bc.ca and follow the links.

Keep your heart happily on the move

Being a journalist, a columnist, or a keyboard jockey of any sort means a lot of sitting around, especially in winter, and that isn't very nice for your heart.

Just ask Maureen Gilmour, who recently retired after 44 years as the community news columnist, first for The Squamish Citizen then, later, The Squamish Chief.

Maureen won't exactly be sitting around, though. Back in 2003, she was one of four original members in Squamish's Hearts in Motion Walking Club, an initiative of the Heart and Stroke Foundation to get people moving across Canada.

"We walk for probably 30 to 50 minutes each week... There are a couple of gals who are 88 and 84. I'm 82 and they walk way faster than I do," Maureen says. "And then there's the social part of it. We always go for coffee after — the Heart and Stroke Foundation stresses that socializing is an important part of it all."

If you'd like to join the Squamish walking club to get your heart going, it meets 10 a.m. every Friday at a different location, which is posted in The Chief weekly. Or call Maureen at 604-815-0152 for details.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who tries to consider her heart in all ways.

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