Celebrate love in healthier ways

PHOTO: Celebrate love in healthier ways

Valentine's Day. Red roses. Romantic dinners. Precious gifts. They sound totally expected, don't they?

So take a step back from the commercialism of the day of love and instead spend your money and time on healthier, more meaningful pursuits and memories.

While some of these suggestions cost money, others are free. Some may require skills, others are about rekindling love in relaxation, but whatever it is, the new skills, experience and hopefully, element of surprise, will help bring a new spark in life.

1. Dark chocolate

If you still want to give her a box of chocolates, choose dark chocolate as it has flavonoids that reduce the risk of blood clots and increase blood flow in arteries and the heart. It may also improve mood and increase pleasure by boosting serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain. Dark chocolate (at least 70 per cent cocoa content), contains a number of minerals including calcium, magnesium and potassium. Regular intake is associated with better cognitive performance in the elderly. However, it is still high in calories and fat, so please eat in moderation. It is recommended that one eat up to 198g of dark chocolate per week. -Kasmiah Mustapha

2. Gym membership

It may be a bit costly to join a gym, but in the long run, it is totally worth it. Check out the local gyms. Find one that is suitable for both of you and sign up. Independent and smaller gyms sometimes have good facilities too, with cheaper membership fees. Chances are, half of the money you use for dinners and flowers will be enough to cover the fees.

In addition to being healthier, it also helps boost your relationship because both of you now have another common activity. There is a saying that a couple that exercise together, stay together. -Kasmiah Mustapha

3. Give a pet

It may not be a romantic gesture, but giving her or him a pet can bring health benefits. Studies show that having a pet helps reduce stress and depression, lowers blood pressure and increases the serotonin and dopamine hormones.

If you have a dog, taking it for a walk is also a form of exercise.

If your loved one is not allergic to cats or dogs, visit the nearest animal shelter and adopt one. If cats and dogs are not your style, choose any other animal that suits him or her. Animals only need love, attention and care. -Kasmiah Mustapha

4. Gift of inner peace

Meditation is a great way to reduce stress. It is even believed to help with insomnia, migraine and depression as the root cause of many diseases is stress and anxiety. So banish these negative elements from your life by signing up for a series of meditation sessions.

Forget the expensive gifts and make this the day to start a healthy practice that will give both you and your partner comfort and contentment. Look out for meditation groups you can join or sign up with a spiritual or religious body that appeals to you, and teaches the basics of this calming activity. If this sounds like too big a commitment then go away on a relaxing, meditation retreat, far from the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy each other's company and the benefits of restful reflection. -Meera Murugesan

5. The magic of massage

Don't we all love the calm, relaxed feeling that comes after a massage? But having a massage does so much more than just relax muscles. It's known to relieve stress, pain and stiffness and even believed to boost immunity. It's also the perfect gift for the person who is constantly stressed. Wouldn't it be great to share this intimate activity with your spouse on a romantic day?

Get some scented candles and aromatic massage oil and you're all set to give your partner a comfortable home massage. It costs much less than your typical Valentine's Day gift. It's a simple act but a great way to show your partner that you care.

Otherwise, schedule a "his and her" massage session at a spa of your choice and spend the day together in a feel good atmosphere. What can be a better gift for that special someone to show them you care? -Meera Murugesan

6. Rosy treats

Splurge all you want on those expensive roses this Valentine's Day, but keep in mind that roses don't just look good but taste good too, with many health benefits.

So instead of buying a bouquet, spend your money on organically-grown roses which are safe to eat and dish up some tasty, healthy treats for your loved one. Drop the petals into jellies or use them in other desserts. Make a soothing rose tea or a tasty syrup from rose petals and hips mixed with sugar and honey, or simply throw the petals into salads.

Rose contains Vitamins C, E, B3, A as well as iron, zinc and calcium. For centuries, rose petals and hips have been used to treat a variety of health disorders, from chest and cough infections and digestive problems to peptic ulcers and womb disorders. They even have a wonderful effect on the skin. What more can your wife or girlfriend ask for when she has flowers that light up a room and heal the body at the same time? -Meera Murugesan

7. Love at first Salsa

Enrol in a couple's salsa dance class. Salsa is a lightly flirtatious dance, so couples will find it fun to be playfully seductive in the energy and movement of the dance.

For some couples, salsa is a fun, social, physical, playfully flirtatious activity that requires teamwork. It can bring them closer together. In addition, dancing, like any other aerobic exercise, can lower your risk of coronary heart disease, decrease blood pressure, help you manage your weight and strengthen the bones of your legs and hips.

After this, you will be ready to hit a salsa club and dance the night away. -Meena Sreenivasan

8. Going nuts

If you're at a loss for a healthy gift, a basket of nuts, dried fruit and seeds is perfect. Choose from almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts as these contain less saturated fats. You may also add to your gift box a small jar or bottle of seeds such as flaxseed, pumpkin seed and sunflower seed which offer the same heart health benefits. Make sure they are unsalted and limit yourselves to a handful of nuts per day while you sit down to watch your favourite sitcom or television series.

Nuts are one of the best plant sources of protein. They are rich in fibre, phytonutrients and antioxidants such as Vitamin E and selenium. To add variety to the gift hamper, add healthy dried fruits like raisins, dried cranberries, prunes, dates, figs and apricots.

Here's an idea. Buy the nuts, seeds and dried fruits separately and then get a pretty heart-shaped jar or box and mix them up. Tie it with a little ribbon and you are ready to go nuts over each other! -Meena Sreenivasan

9. Yoga-licious session

How about taking up yoga together? Partner yoga is believed to strengthen the relationship between couples. The bonding will not only allow both of you to spend quality time together but also help get both of you in shape. Practise your asanas or yoga poses at home on days when there's no class.

Studies have found that people who practise yoga and meditation at least three times a week may reduce their blood pressure, pulse and most importantly, their risk of heart disease. -Meena Sreenivasan

10. Love the walk

Instead of a movie and dinner, go for a morning or evening walk. Get out of the house but instead of movies, talk to each other, share some jokes and rekindle the romance you may have lost in the routine called life. Brisk walking burns calories and spending time with a loved one helps you recharge emotionally. It's a simple gift for two that doesn't cost a thing and reaps a whole lot of benefits.

If both of you run, do this together. It's healthy and fun. If only one of you is athletic, then the non-sporty party can accompany his or her spouse. Who knows, you can even pick up a healthy habit. But most importantly, spending time together, away from the television and household chores, can definitely bring you closer. -Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan

11. Present for fitness

Roses wilt after a few days. Plush toys gather dust and that's bad news if you are allergy-prone. Consider these new gift ideas - dumb-bells, fitness ball or stepper - that you can keep at home and use when it's too late to go for a run or when it rains.

Granted, a treadmill or a stationary bike is too expensive and may not be suitable for small homes due to its size but a fitness ball or stepper is just fine. And once you are accustomed to your new exercise gadget, you can device many ways of exercising for different body parts and even do workouts together. -Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan

12. Cook up a storm

If there's one good thing that has come up from the super-popular cooking show Masterchef, it's bringing out the inner chef in all of us. Eating is universal and we all have our favourite food. Deep down, we'd all like to whip up a dish in a jiffy.

The joy of eating in on Valentine's Day isn't just about economics (the prices of dinners can be extravagant, plus there will be 10 other couples in the same restaurant). Cooking your own food is healthier because you have complete control of what goes in. You can also dictate the quality of ingredients and the manner in which the food is prepared.

Don't worry if you have never cooked before. YouTube has countless cooking videos or download cooking apps on your smartphone and tablets and you are on your way to unleashing your inner chef and serving something cooked from the heart. -Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan