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Published February 12, 2014, 03:17 PM

Positively Beautiful: Being good to your heart

I have a February birthday, so nearly every childhood party had a pink and red hearts theme. Somehow I never grew tired of them.

By: Dr. Susan Mathison, INFORUM

I have a February birthday, so nearly every childhood party had a pink and red hearts theme. Somehow I never grew tired of them.

Give yourself a Valentine, and check out these ways to be good to your heart, and all the hearts around you.

1. Eat clean. The food you eat is the most important part of a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, our standard American diet is more focused on convenience than health.

Clean eating is not a fad diet but a system for making good choices. The basics include eating whole, fresh foods and avoiding processed foods that come in a box or have unpronounceable ingredients.

Other tenets include eating from the rainbow of vegetables and fruits, especially leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage. Avoid refined sugars and flours. Eat lean, unprocessed meat and fish. Make water your primary beverage.

2. Indulge with dark chocolate. If you are making better food choices, but still need an occasional sweet treat, a small piece of dark chocolate (less than one ounce) may be the answer since it seems to have heart health benefits.

Cocoa beans contain flavanol, an antioxidant that also influences the cardiovascular system by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain, and making platelets less sticky.

Cranberries, apples, peanuts, onions, tea and red wine also contain flavanols.

Milk chocolate is much higher in sugar and fat content, so it doesn’t make the heart healthy grade.

3. Brush and floss your teeth. Three of my younger brothers are dentists, so there is a lot of brushing and flossing going on when we all gather at the lake.

These simple everyday tasks have benefits that go beyond sparkly teeth, healthy gums and fresh breath. It turns out that dental problems, gum disease in particular, causes inflammation and a bacterial load that can be detrimental to cardiovascular health, fertility and our joints.

A cardiology study from Scotland in 2010 showed that gum disease doubled a person’s chance of developing cardiovascular disease.

Get regular cleanings and actually use the floss you get each time you go.

4. Try HeartMath.This system offers bio-feedback technology and training that assesses and measures heart rate variability in response to various emotions.

Research has found that negative emotions such as anger and frustration are very toxic to our cardiovascular system.

HeartMath helps people to manage stress and transform toxic emotions by harnessing the power of hearth/brain communication.

5. Take a CPR class. FM Ambulance offers frequent classes for the public, taught according the guidelines of the American Heart Association.

Their staff deal with life and death every day and bring real-life situations to the classroom.

We have CPR training for our entire staff every year, and even I am glad for it. Given my specialty, I don’t deal with these emergency situations very often. But I have given CPR in a bank parking lot in February and on a rural playground after a Thanksgiving Day flag football game. It wasn’t easy, but thankfully in both situations we had lots of help and both individuals survived.

Studies show that only 25 percent of people who suffer a sudden cardiac event receive CPR. It can happen anywhere, and you can help save a life by knowing some simple guidelines. If you can’t take an in-person class, watch a YouTube video to get some basic information.

6. Know where AEDs are. In the CPR situations I describe above, the bank parking lot was right across the street from what was then Dakota Hospital, and the patient was in the ER within 10 minutes of the event and had received almost immediate CPR. This was before the introduction of AEDs.

In the other case, the location was more than 40 miles from Fargo. Immediate resuscitation and use of an AED (automated external defibrillator) was critical for the survival of this 25-year-old man. He was taken by air ambulance to Sanford, but it was almost an hour before he arrived in the ER. The AED was located in the church adjacent to the field.

Download a free smartphone app called PulsePoint that locates nearby AEDs. It was introduced to our region last fall and will soon be nationwide.

7. Laugh. Laughter encourages deep breathing and a relaxation response that has major benefits for our cardiovascular system. It also reflects a more positive outlook on life.

Studies showed that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease. They responded less humorously to everyday life situations, and generally laughed less, even in positive situations. They also displayed more anger and hostility, emotions that are toxic in that they increase inflammation.

8. Give. Today is Giving Hearts Day at Dakota Medical Foundation through their website www.ImpactGiveback.org. You can support your favorite nonprofit and learn about 170 more.

Did you know that giving is good for your heart? Studies suggest that it decreases stress and lowers blood pressure.

Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. Email her at info@catalystmedicalcenter.com.