Sending fresh flowers, giving decadent chocolates, perhaps having dinner at a fancy restaurant or preparing a surprise gift – Valentine’s Day is an occasion where people pull out all the stops to impress their significant other.

Besides setting hearts aflutter (in a good way), such expressions of love are also beneficial to your health. Here are some Valentine’s Day traditions that not only reaffirms your love, but may also have health benefits.

Giving Chocolates

Cocoa, the main ingredient used to make chocolate, is a natural source of flavonoids, which is an antioxidant to protect us against free radicals. The flavonoids may also improve your heart health by increasing the flexibility of your arteries and blood flow.

Eating chocolates also triggers a release of serotonin in your brain. This chemical plays an important role in regulating your mood, memory, sleep and appetite. Get dark chocolates if you want to maximise the health benefits of chocolates for your partner and yourself. The darker the chocolate, the higher the cocoa content, and the richer the chocolate is in flavonoids.

Take note, though, of its sugar and fat content. Depending on its processing and preparation method, the sugar level will differ between chocolate types. Since too much sugar in your diet increases your risk of obesity and other health problems, eat the candy in moderation. To avoid overindulging, take the time to savour the chocolate and let it melt in your mouth, so you will be more contented with smaller servings.

Wining and Dining

Likewise, red wine – made from grape skins – is also rich in antioxidants. “Red wine may be beneficial for heart health,” said Dr Teo Swee Guan, Specialist in Cardiology and Consultant, Raffles Heart Centre. “Red wine increases HDL and exerts antioxidant effects through N-acetylcysteine and resveratrol. This may explain its beneficial effect on cardiovascular health”

Specifically, the health benefits of red wine includes:

  • Increasing the level of healthy cholesterol
  • Reducing the formation of blood clots
  • Improving the function of your blood vessel lining
  • Protecting your body against damage caused by bad cholesterol

Before you start drinking alcohol in an attempt to prevent heart diseases, remember that alcohol is addictive and can cause or worsen other health problems. “Drinking too much alcohol may increase the risk of liver problems, high blood pressure, and accidents,” said Dr Teo. “If you choose to drink red wine, do it in moderation. Limit yourself to up to one drink each day.”

As with all foods, eat and drink these Valentine’s Day staples in moderation. If you want to experience the health benefits of antioxidants and other important nutrients, you can also get them from other food sources. You can also consider dietary supplements if you find that you aren’t getting enough nutrition in your diet.

Simple Expressions of Love

Beyond gifiting and wining and dining, there are benefits to being in love and spreading it. A 2011 study learned that participants who were in love had lower levels of stress hormones compared to single participants when exposed to negative stimuli.

Simple gestures of love, such as touching, holding hands, or hugging, are effective buffers against stress. A study by the University of North Carolina found that when female participants receive hugs frequently, their body released the hormone oxytoxin, which reduced blood pressure and heart rate.

It’s human nature to crave human contact,” says Dr Kua. “Being in physical contact with your loved ones activates a part of brain that calms you down and illicit a sense of well-being, safety and comfort. It also lowers the amount of stress chemical in your body.”

The health benefits of expressing and receiving love isn’t limited to between your partner and you.  Having good and loving relationships with social groups, such as your family and friends can:

  • Reduce plaque build-up in the arteries
  • Increase your antibody levels
  • Reduce levels of stress chemicals
  • Improve heart health

No matter what your plans are for Valentine’s Day, it’s the thought and effort that counts.

Celebrate the season of love

Reviewed by Dr Joshua Kua, Specialist in Psychiatry & Consultant, Raffles Counselling Centre, and Dr Teo Swee Guan, Specialist in Cardiology & Consultant, Raffles Heart Centre