Asma Shuaib, a 22-year-old student attending a rally near Ellis Island to protest the new and confusing immigration rules, was in tears when a reporter for The New York Times caught up with her.
"If you see something that you believe in your heart is wrong," she said, "you must speak out, and then act."
When I read that, I knew I had a sweet way to begin my annual Valentine's Day column. Because, as all my dear readers already know, your heart isn't just a mindless pump that pushes blood around your body. It's command central for overall well-being. It's the center of joy and spirit in your life. It's the center of heartbreak, too.
There's plenty of scientific evidence that positive emotions and compassionate actions are big contributors to a healthy heart. We also know that anger, hatred and other negative emotions can cause damage to your heart, no matter how many followers you have on Facebook.
So thanks, Asma.
Along with listening to your heart and speaking out, here are a few more strategies for celebrating Valentine's Day this year, especially this year, when so many of our hearts are taking a beating:
LOVE. "If I could ask someone only one question," writes best-selling author John Robbins, "and I wanted to learn the most I could about their health and how long they are likely to live, my question would not be 'Do you smoke?' It would not be 'Are you overweight?' Nor would I ask 'What's your cholesterol level?' or 'How's your blood pressure?'
"Instead I would ask, 'How much love is there in your life?'"
If you can answer that question with high numbers and deep gratitude, it means more to the ongoing health of your heart than all the fish-oil capsules in China.
And if your answer causes a little heartburn because you really wish there were more love in your life, do what the happiness experts teach at Healthy Lifestyle U: Open your heart to others. Cultivate kindness; be less judgmental and more compassionate. Be funny, and be a good listener, because your friends will benefit most of all from your attention, not your well-meaning advice.
BE MORE ACTIVE. You knew this was coming. February is National Heart Month, and I'd have to turn in my official Red Cross Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation card if I didn't restate the obvious: Physical activity — at home, in the gym, in your office — is a must if you want to nurture a healthier heart. Get focused. Get moving. Have fun. Bonus points if you do it outdoors, in nature. Take a walk! Ride your bike! Vacuum to the Supremes!
And don't forget one of my personal favorites: yoga, a 5,000-year-old recipe for vibrant health that includes meditation and conscious breathing, two more proven paths to a calmer, stronger heart.
Whatever you do, do something. Take action, as Asma Shuaib said, and remember this: Just going from a sedentary lifestyle to a more active one has tremendous health benefits. Start where you are.
LET GO OF ANGER. If you hold onto anger in your mind and body — at your boss, your thoughtless and noisy neighbor, your senator — it depresses your immune system, drains your energy and weakens your heart. So this Valentine's Day, indulge in a ritual that identifies your anger and lets it go: Light a candle; write a poem; float a feather out to sea. Practice forgiveness, and your heart will expand in ways that will help you feel more connected and less stressed, no matter what your most trusted news channel is reporting.
EAT SMARTER. Extra pounds weigh heavily on your heart. To lighten your load, eat in a more enlightened way. Forget dieting. Diets are all about denial and deprivation, and the moment you go off your diet, the weight piles back on.
Instead, this Valentine's Day, hold your hand over your heart and vow to consume moderate amounts of real food: more clean fruits and veggies and fewer junky meats and processed foods. Learn to prepare meals using the freshest, most local ingredients you can find. Don't depend on supplements or fasts to power up your heart. It thrives on good food — pure food — prepared with love and eaten slowly, with awareness and appreciation of all the blessings in your life.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! HARD TO BEAT THIS GUY
"Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all." — Aristotle
Marilynn Preston — healthy lifestyle expert, well being coach and Emmy-winning producer — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, marilynnpreston.com, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to [email protected]m. She also produces EnExTV, a digital reincarnation of her award-winning TV series about sports, fitness and adventure, for kids of all ages, at youtube.com/EnExTV and facebook.com/EnExTV. To find out more about Preston and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.