At least 12.9 million people living in the UK are in relationships, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, so it’s safe to say we’re going to get pretty loved up this Valentine’s Day.
In 2016, Brits spent £1.6 billion on Valentine’s gifts and cards according to figures from The Telegraph, and we all like to think we know a thing or two about our hearts.
But did you know that 7 million of us living in the UK are living with undiagnosed high blood pressure?
And did you know that a quarter of all Brits can expect to be diagnosed with some form of cardiovascular disease in their lifetime?
No? The point makes itself: we don’t know as much about our hearts as we think we do.
Now I, being a strong, young, independent woman who doesn’t need a festive holiday to tell her whether or not her love life is a success (whether I have one or not…) would normally count myself out from all the Valentine’s Day news put out there on February 14th.
But this year I’ve got a reason to get involved. I’m going to give you 5 simple tips for planning your perfect Valentine’s Day in a way that will make sure you protect your heart in more ways than one.
1) Swap chocolate and alcohol for cards and flowers
Most women I know prefer a handwritten note on a tatty restaurant napkin to a designer perfume or a ridiculously cumbersome giant teddy bear that’s not going to fit in the bedroom, bathroom, or ultimately, the bin.
And the guys? As much as they might not show it, I can see the glint in my male friends’ eyes when they receive a well thought out, heartfelt gift, instead of a generic box of chocolates or a bottle of whiskey bought on sale at the last minute.
It’s not about being ungrateful (we all love to receive gifts whatever they are and it’s the thought that counts, right?) but swapping chocolate and alcohol for cards and flowers, or maybe even a personalised piece of jewellery (for men or women), could save your pulse from rising any higher than expected this Valentine’s Day.
NHS guidelines suggest cutting back on your caffeine and alcohol consumption if you’re looking to maintain a healthy blood pressure or you’re aiming to reduce high blood pressure.
The British Heart Foundation also recommends cutting back on foods high in saturated fat (e.g. chocolate) to reduce high cholesterol.
So for those of us who already have high cholesterol, or those of us who want to reduce our risk of joining the other 7 million Brits unknowingly living with hypertension, swapping out throw-away gifts like chocolate and alcohol seems like as good a solution as any for keeping our hearts in tip-top shape this Valentine’s Day.
2) Don’t meet up for coffee; meet up for kombucha
As we’ve already discussed, caffeine has been linked to elevated blood pressure, with NHS Choices stating on their website that:
“Drinking more than four cups of coffee a day may increase your blood pressure.”
The recent shortcomings of Northumbria University, which ended up putting two students in hospital with life-threatening complaints after administering 30g of caffeine instead of 0.3g, only serve to reinforce the fact that too much caffeine is most certainly dangerous.
One way of cutting back this Valentine’s Day will be to swap a coffee for a tea.
The average cup of tea contains half the amount of caffeine compared to the average cup of coffee, according to figures provided by The Guardian highlighting that 100g of tea contains 20mg of caffeine, compared to 40mg of caffeine in a standard 100g black coffee.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could upgrade your tea to a kombucha; a fizzy, fermented tea of the black and green variety. Whether the supposed health benefits of kombucha have any real scientific standing has yet to be proven one way or the other, but the fact that kombucha is indeed a tea instead of a coffee could make it a healthier choice for your heart this Valentine’s Day.
There have been unofficial claims that kombucha contains as little as a third of the caffeine traditionally found in other tea beverages, so why not spice things up and get something warm down your neck without setting your pulse racing for the wrong reasons?
3) Try lunch instead of dinner
Our friends over in Europe got it right when they decided that midday would be the best time to eat our biggest meal of the day, rather than waiting to go all out in the evening.
Our Anglo-Saxon ancestors were famous for their late night galavanting about town drinking copious amounts of alcohol and feasting on table upon table of boar.
But us modern-day Brits don’t spend our days fighting off Vikings anymore, so we don’t need to refuel so hard in the evenings.
Eating your biggest meal in the middle of the day means you’ll give yourself the greatest chance of allowing your food to digest properly, with the acids in your stomach having more time to break down the food that passes through your digestive system.
If you experience heartburn after eating, then having your blow-out Valentine's meal at an earlier time might help your food go down better. (Yes, I know heartburn isn’t actually a heart complaint, but I'm thinking that you and I both knew going into this list that I wasn’t going to get too stringent or serious on the day of love. And your stomach needs love too, you know!)
Those who suffer from stomach motility issues like gastroparesis (a long-term health condition in which the stomach takes longer than usual to empty itself of stomach acid and allows surplus acid to leak up into the oesophagus), could stand to benefit from swapping a big dinner for a sizeable lunch this Valentine’s Day.
4) Chill out and snuggle up on the sofa
It’s not often you’ll read a health post that recommends sitting down as a good way of looking after your health, and there are two caveats to bear in mind here.
I’m no clinician, and I’ve never claimed to be one.
I’m not saying you should spend every evening slumped in a chair instead of getting out there and doing some heart-pumping exercise.
Now we’ve got that clear, I can point out to you that stress levels have been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure in later life, as demonstrated in a study published by the BMJ Heart journal.
The BMJ Heart study found that:
“Low stress resilience at age 18 was associated with increased risk of hypertension in adulthood.”
Loosely translated, this means that a person’s ability to deal with stress in a healthy way at a younger age could lower their risk of developing hypertension before hitting the age of 62. (While that number might seem overly specific, 62 was the age of the oldest participant tested, so the data only covers the age range of 18-62).
But if chilling in front of the TV doesn’t seem like the most romantic option for your Valentine's Day celebrations, you could try moving onto tip number 5…
5) Save your weekend for a trip to the spa
We could all do with some TLC after overcoming the stress that comes with planning the perfect date for our significant other.
Massage is a great way of soothing your limbs while stimulating your nerve endings and making you all the more receptive to your partner’s loving touch.
The International Journal of Preventive Medicine published a study measuring the effects of Swedish massage as compared to rest and relaxation on a group of 50 pre-hypertensive women.
After having split the group of women into two smaller subsets of 25, the first group were given 10-15 minute sessions of Swedish massage three times over the course of a week. The second group were placed in the same settings as the first group (i.e. a relaxing spa atmosphere) but were given no massage therapy.
The BP of the women in both groups was measured before and after each massage and relaxation session, and measured again 72 hours after finishing each therapy.
At the close of the study, the women who had received Swedish massage achieved lower blood pressure, not only immediately after each session, but also three days after each session had ended. This suggests that the Swedish massage played a significant role in lowering the blood pressure of the pre-hypertensive women tested.
However, it should be noted that UK academics and health professionals have been more reluctant to acknowledge any health benefits associated with massage therapy, whether it comes in the form of reflexology, aromatherapy or traditional bodily massage.
But taking your partner to the spa isn’t going to do you any harm, and it could help keep your blood pressure nice and low. So why not try it out? At the very least it’s an excuse to see your partner’s bare shoulders peeking out where a bulky winter coat would normally be hiding them, which makes a good massage and warm soak all the more tempting, does it not?
The tips given in this Valentine’s Day guide are designed to be very easy to incorporate into any existing plans you might have for February 14th, so take note, make some changes, and treat your heart as carefully as your partner does this Valentine's Day.
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