ST. CHARLES, Ill. – When we think of February, we often picture candy and cartoon hearts, but it also falls during National Heart Month. So, why not put some real “heart” into Valentine’s Day this year?

“Consider a fun activity with your sweetheart, such as ice-skating, a sunset walk or stay indoors with yoga, dancing or bowling,” said Laura Barr Walker, Nutrition and Wellness Educator for University of Illinois Extension. “You can get moving and still have quality time and make memories together. Plus, regular exercise is needed for a strong heart, healthy body and a good mood.”

To further celebrate American Heart Month, she recommends using the Heart-Check Food Certification Program to choose nourishing foods at the grocery store or when eating out.

“Choosing nutrient-dense foods consistently can improve your heart health,” said Walker. “The foods listed and labeled as Heart-Check Certified are FDA-regulated and easily recognized on the product or the menu.”

For example, apples and oatmeal both are naturally heart healthy because they contain significant soluble fiber. In addition, just two servings of fish weekly will help catch heart-healthy omega-three fatty acids, which are naturally occurring in salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, albacore tuna or lake trout. Walker also added to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, and to make low-fat dairy and lean protein choices.

Last but not least, put a heart-healthy spin on your Valentine’s Day dessert and pair dark chocolate with nutritious complements such as fruit and nuts. For inspiration, Walker shared a dark chocolate fondue recipe from University of Illinois Extension at https://go.illinois.edu/DarkChocolateFondueStrawberries.

“A healthy diet and exercise are the power twins that will improve your life when practiced consistently,” said Walker. “Build a positive foundation for Heart Health Month that can carry you through the whole year. What better gift is there?”