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7 Do's and Don'ts to Keep Your Heart Strong

Here are the "super seven" tips for keeping your heart healthy through Valentine's Day and beyond.

Valentine's Day evokes images of candy-shaped hearts, heart-shaped cards that children trade with classmates, heart-shaped cutout cookies (I've got four on my kitchen counter right now from , thanks to a thoughtful neighbor in the Valentine's Day spirit), necklaces with diamond-filled hearts ...

But we might also want to think about our own hearts this time of year, suggest doctors, wellness experts, nutritionists and others. 

Here's a "super-seven" do's and don'ts list that could be the best gift you give your heart this Valentine's Day. 

1. Do attend special health classes/seminars throughout the year: If you read about an upcoming event and say to yourself, "Hmmm, I should attend that," then go! For example, the  in Birmingham is hosting a lecture on heart health and insulin resistance at 7 p.m. Thursday. If you’ve ever wondered whether you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease or obesity, this seminar will shed some light on the answers. Nutrition, lifestyle and more will be discussed. Reserve a spot by calling 248-645-6070.

2. Don’t be a couch potato. Cardiologist Pam Marcovitz, M.D., medical director of the J. Peter and Florine Ministrelli Women's Heart Center at in Royal Oak, says movement can make a huge difference in heart health. She suggests beginning a walking program as something simple that you can do alone or with a friend, children or your spouse or signicant other. Visit   heart.beaumont.edu/state-of-the-heart-newsletter for more heart-health tips. 

3. Do order healthy fare when dining out. The easiest time to slip up on eating well is when dining out. Learn how to order wisely at some of your favorite restaurant chains. Olive Garden, Ruby Tuesday and Applebee’s, among others, feature tasty, healthful options.

4. Do research on various fruit properties. As February is National Cherry Month and American Hearth Month, Michelle White — whose company, Michelle's Miracle, focuses on cherries — is especially excited this time of year to talk about the celebrated, antioxidant-rich red fruit. Tart cherries, which contain a lot of vitamin A and beta-carotene, offer extensive heart-health benefits.

White’s "Michelle's Miracle," a tart cherry concentrate available at , Plum markets and other specialty grocery stores, features Michigan's Montmorency cherries that have been fresh-picked, cold-packed and flash-pasteurized to preserve the flavor and potency.

5. Do check blog posts. February is a great time to learn about how others are helping their own hearts. Look for some great blog posts exploring the theme of heart health on A Healthier Michigan and read up on how others like you are combating heart issues. 

6. Don’t skimp on sleep. According to the Harvard Medical School, poor sleep habits can contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart failure, heart attack and stroke, diabetes and obesity. 

7. Don’t smoke. “Quitting smoking is the absolute best thing someone can do for their heart,” says Niccole Malone, fitness programs manager at Beaumont Hospital's in Rochester Hills. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 130,000 cardiovascular disease deaths per year (in the U.S.) are attributed to smoking,” says Malone. “Smoking also contributes to about 26 percent of heart attacks and up to 19 percent of strokes per year (2011)."

Malone says exercise will help curb nicotine cravings and makes it easier to remain smoke-free after quitting. “In the early stages of quitting, the human brain is learning to function without nicotine. Exercise creates endorphins, which are your feel-good hormones, and can make the nicotine cravings less intense. Also, during exercise you are breathing deeper, which is helping you 'retrain' your lungs  to take in more oxygen.” Sola offers custom, guided exercise and nutrition programs for members taking the first steps to a more healthful lifestyle.

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