When we think of February, we think of Valentine’s Day, right? While that may be true for many, as triathletes we need to be aware that February is also American Heart Month. Our hearts pump oxygen through our bodies and provide us with the capability to do all that we do. And we ask our hearts to do a lot! A healthy heart equals a strong body and we work hard all year long to be strong. Take some time this month to think about your own cardiac health. We give our hearts quite the workout every day and we can all get a little overconfident that we are in top-notch shape. Get checked by a cardiologist annually to make sure you are ready to handle all that you make your heart do on a regular basis. So step one: make that appointment!
Step two: let’s make the month of love mean more than candy and chocolates. So much of the time it’s the loves in your life that provide you with the motivation and inspiration to cross that finish line. February can be fun, healthy and motivational this year by taking the focus off of sugar and putting it on heart health. After all, lifelong health is a priority for ourselves and the ones who love us.
Here are some creative and healthy ways that my triathlete household celebrates February, the heart month!
Colorful Heart. Instead of a chocolate heart, how about a heart-shaped berry arrangement? Create a large heart on a platter with sliced strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. Heart-healthy vitamins and antioxidants will make everyone’s hearts beat a little stronger.
Hug and Kiss Coupons. Kids and adults love these (warning: teenagers might not!). Create coupons for both hugs and kisses. These can be used whenever someone is in need of a little pick-me-up squeeze or smooch. Give each coupon an expiration date so they use them up in a timely manner.
Dark Chocolate. OK, I know we all love our chocolate. And guess what? It is heart healthy. Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, which have cardio protective properties. Make dark chocolate even healthier by dipping fresh fruit such as apples, strawberries and bananas in it.
Omega Who? Commit to increasing omega-3 fatty acids this month. Eat salmon, tuna or mackerel a few times a week, drizzle olive oil on colorful salads, snack on almonds, walnuts and cashews, toss flax seeds on your yogurt and oatmeal and add avocado to sandwiches and wraps. Boosting omega-3 intake strengthens heart health. And as an added benefit for triathletes, it supports joint health as well.
Work Out Together. I know triathletes already work out enough, but include your kids and friends in something active. Try having a dance party, checking out a new hiking trail, jumping rope, creating a push-up or plank challenge, doing a daily yoga routine together or taking a fitness class together. You can improve heart health while spending time together, and there is no better gift than your time!
Technology for Your Heart. A great gift idea is a heart-focused gadget. Perhaps a special triathlete in your life might want the Garmin Forerunner 735xt or vívofit activity tracker. There are so many wearable GPS and fitness monitors on the market right now that are not only fun but very motivational. You are the expert on this one right? You can help someone you love who may not be as active create some heart-healthy habits. Improving the heart health of your loved ones is priceless.
Have a Heart. Find a blood drive and donate blood any day this month. The gift of good health is a gift that keeps on giving.
Happy heart month!
Jennifer O’Donnell-Giles is a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. She is involved in all things sports nutrition including serving on the U.S. Olympic Sports Dietitian Registry, working as a media spokesperson for Kind Bar and racing on the Rev3 ambassador triathlon team. She has a dual master's degree in nutrition and exercise physiology from Columbia University. She has been in this field for over 20 years and is an accomplished endurance triathlete in her own right having competed in multiple 140.6 and 26.2 races as well as represented Team USA at world championships three times. She works with athletes all over the world ... the most important being her triathlete husband and four very active children. Learn more at jenngilesrd.com.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.