Date: February 1st, 2013
It’s that time of year where people throughout the world exchange candy, flowers, and sentimental gifts with their loved ones, and those that they hope to love. While many of us believe—especially those who grumble at the thought of the lovey-dovey holiday—that Valentine’s Day was invented by greeting card and chocolate companies to up their profits, it actually has a long, and somewhat dark history.
Heart health advocacy organizations are hoping to add to the history of Valentine’s Day by designating the month of love “heart health month” and making it another reminder of how important it is that we protect and cherish both our loved ones and our hearts.
The Origins of Valentine’s Day
February 14th has long been celebrated as Valentine’s Day, but its origins are fairly mysterious. The Catholic Church recognizes a number of different martyred saints named Valentine and Valentinus, but the day may also have Roman and pagan origins.
One legend claims that Valentine was a priest in Rome during the third century. When Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for younger men—believing that men who were unencumbered by wives and children made better soldiers—Valentine defied the decree and continued to secretly marry young couples. He was put to death for his disobedience.
Another legend claims that Valentine was killed for trying to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons. He may have even sent a note during his own imprisonment to a young girl who had visited him (and whom legend claims he may have healed of her blindness). The note was allegedly signed “From Your Valentine.
One of the legends even claims that Saint Valentine cut out parchment hearts and gave them to soldiers and persecuted Christians. Perhaps the reason for Valentine Day’s everlasting symbol.
But why mid-February? Some believe that the holiday grew out of the conventional belief in the Middle Ages that birds chose their mates in mid-February. Others claim it was the day commemorating St. Valentine’s death or burial. Still others believe the Christian Church chose the date in an attempt to supersede the pagan celebration of Lupercalia—a fertility festival. If that’s the case, it appears to have worked! Unless of course you send your loved ones Lupercalia cards on February 14th.
Whichever legend is true, and perhaps none of them are, Valentine continues to stand as a sympathetic, heroic, and romantic figure and Valentine’s Day—a day of love.
Keeping Your Heart Healthy
Whatever the reason for our celebration in February, since you can’t turn a corner without catching sight of a heart, heart health organizations decided it was the perfect time to call attention to heart health. Each year February is proclaimed American Heart Month by the President, giving advocates across the nation a unique opportunity to raise awareness.
The American Heart Association raises awareness throughout the year about heart health and provides fabulous resources on how to keep your heart healthy, how to live with heart disease, what you can do to make a difference, and more. A recent campaign from the AHA called My Life Check: Live Better with Life’s Simply 7, outlines 7 key steps to a healthy heart:
- Get Active
Too many of us fail to get enough exercise. According to the AHA, at least 30 minutes of brisk physical activity each day, five days a week, lowers our risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
- Control Cholesterol
High cholesterol (LDL is the bad stuff) can lead to blockages in our arteries; which can lead to heart disease and stroke.
- Eat Better
Healthy foods are the fuel that our bodies use to fight disease, create energy, and keep us healthy. Foods high in saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar do just the opposite and put us at risk for heart disease.
- Manage Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is the biggest risk factor for heart disease because the increased force of blood flow puts pressure and strain on our heart and arteries and stretches them beyond capacity.
- Lose Weight
Extra fat puts us at higher risk for heart disease by putting extra strain on our heart.
- Reduce Blood Sugar
High blood sugar can cause significant health problems including heart damage.
- Stop Smoking
Smoking damages our entire circulatory system and leads to coronary heart disease, hardened arteries, aneurysms, and blood clots. These in turn increase our risk of heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. Smoking can also make it harder to exercise.
Knowing the Facts
Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S. An estimated 82 million Americans have one or more types of cardiovascular disease and close to 600,000 people die from heart disease each year.
These facts are an important tool in raising awareness of the tremendous burden of cardiovascular diseases. To learn more about the prevalence of different types of cardiovascular disease, how they impact individuals, and how they impact the economy, visit The Silver Book. Once there you can also access the newly released fact sheet on atrial fibrillation from the Silver Book series, which calls attention to the devastating impacts of the disease.