What’s the best way to show your sweetheart you care? Play doctor – with his or her health, that is. Giving your loved one the support and information he or she needs to make important lifestyle changes is the best Valentine’s gift you could offer. Remember: A little effort’s better than none at all. If you find some of the changes we suggest too daunting, try taking small steps, like skipping red meat for one week, or walking for 15 minutes each night. Before you know it, you and your sweetheart will have made positive changes toward a healthier lifestyle – and a longer life together.
Stock your fridge with fruits and veggies
Is your sweetheart overweight? Help him eat more, not less. That’s right. Study after study shows that people who eat more naturally low-fat, low-calorie whole foods – particularly fruits and vegetables – eat less of the fattening, unhealthful fare that contributes to disease. Chop up raw vegetables for midnight snacks, and serve a large portion of delicately steamed vegetables with your romantic dinner for two. Nothing against Ben & Jerry, but saving sweets for the occasional treat is a lot better than keeping your sweetie’s favorite indulgence on hand. For some, fruits and veggies are an acquired taste; remind him how much better he feels when he doesn’t stuff himself.
Axe the animal fat
Studies show that the biggest single risk factor for heart disease is the amount of animal fat in a person’s diet. Saturated fatty acids and dietary cholesterol are the worst culprits when it comes to raising blood cholesterol and increasing heart disease risk, so avoid them whenever possible. The American Heart Association recommends that you limit your total fat intake to no more than 30% of total calories; some health organizations suggest even lower percentages. Reducing your intake of fatty meats, dairy products, oils and desserts helps; always read a product’s food label before buying. A good lifestyle fix? Next time you go out for dinner, try a vegetarian restaurant. Better yet, buy her a veggie cookbook and try cooking up something together!
Put out your cigarettes
If your sweetheart smokes, support his efforts to quit. If you light up on occasion, think about what smoke does to your loved ones and ask your sweetheart to help you kick the habit. According to the American Heart Association, smoking accounts for about 417,000 of the more than 2 million annual deaths in the U.S. Smokers have a greater risk of developing chronic disorders such as atherosclerosis, several types of cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Set aside a regular “fitness date”
How many nights have you come home from work and planted yourselves in front of the TV together? If your sweetheart’s exercise regimen needs an extra kick, help him out by signing up for a physical activity you can do together several times a week. Martial arts, swing dancing, circus arts, boxing, self-defense, yoga and walking are just a few of the activities you could try. The secret is to meet there each week, so he doesn’t have to choose whether or not to go – it’s just a part of his schedule. Classes also make a great gift.
Make relaxation a priority
Research shows that many “type A” traits – impatience, hostility, intolerance, quickness to anger – increase a person’s risk of heart disease. Hostility in particular has been shown to contribute to high blood pressure and a rapid heartbeat. Short-term symptoms of stress include fatigue, headaches, neck and jaw pain. Unfortunately, a recent survey found that 50% of the respondents vented their tension by becoming snappish toward their partner; 47% also reported that they respond to stress by eating! Tension is at its highest for most people in the post-work, early evening hours, so planning anxiety-reducing exercise, yoga, relaxation techniques or a walk during this time is ideal. Also, don’t skimp on vacations – looking forward to getting away is half the fun.
Getting adequate sleep is essential to beating stress and maintaining health. Most of us need eight hours to feel rested. If your partner has a lot of trouble getting up in the morning, dozes off easily or tires during the day, lack of sleep could be the culprit. Try to eat, work out and eat dinner a little earlier, if possible, and stock the nightstand with good reading material. The herb valerian has also been shown to perform as a sleep aid in a pinch.
Keep him under cover
Skin cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in the U.S. In the past two decades, its rate has doubled in both men and women. Although anybody can get it, basal and squamous cell carcinomas – cancerous scabby looking bumps and fast-growing eczema-looking patches, respectively – occur more frequently in fair people with a history of sunburn and a tendency to have atypical moles. Keep sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 handy at all times, and try to get your sweetie to use it as part of his or her daily ablutions (like brushing his teeth).
Pack her lunch
For some people, lunch is more of a diet-killer than any other meal. Waiting too long to eat can cause your blood sugar to drop, prompting sugar and fat cravings. But packing your sweetie’s lunch can do more than deliver needed energy, cut fat and save her money – it will give her time to go for a walk or visit the gym during her lunch break. One word of caution: Eating at one’s desk is not a good health move. Encourage your sweetheart to get out of the office to eat.
Many curable health problems are discovered too late for optimal treatment. Have your sweetie ask his health practitioner which tests are appropriate for his age, gender and health bracket. If you don’t have health insurance or your plan doesn’t cover some standard tests, set up a payment plan, or call local clinics in your area.
Listen to each other
You’ll never know what’s wrong – or what’s right – until she tells you. Ditto for him. So what if he thinks every little ache is one of the ten warning signs of cancer? Indulge him. There’s no monthly premium on affection.