The February wellness checklist
February's long winter slog is brightened by Valentine's Day, a good reminder to take care of our hearts. Here are some ideas for being well during this shortest, and often snowiest, of months in Washington.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 issued late last month call for us to eat more heart-healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthful fats, fiber and fish. But which of these are the best of all? The new "Power Foods" cookbook ($25, 2010) from Martha Stewart's Whole Living magazine promotes 38 foods, from apricots and avocados to walnuts and wild Alaskan salmon.
Alexandra Postman, editor in chief of Whole Living, tells me that she and the book's other editors singled out these 38 "power foods" for providing the best mix of nutrients. They wanted to help consumers decide, "If I'm going to eat a leafy green, which one delivers the biggest bang?" she says. (Spinach and kale make the cut.)
Also helpful to those trying to follow the new dietary guidelines' call for reducing sodium in our diets (1,500 mg per day) are the book's guides to using healthful oils, herbs and spices to add flavor sans salt.
What's the best bet in the produce section this month? Try something orange. Clementines, persimmons, sweet potatoes and butternut squash are among the fruits and vegetables that are at their prime in wintertime. Tiny, low-calorie clementines are bursting with Vitamin C, while persimmons, sweet potatoes and butternut squash are rich in vitamins C and A.
I recommend these healthful recipes from The Post's Food section:
As for clementines, just peel 'em and enjoy!
Foil the flu
This month is often peak season for influenza in the United States. So far it's been a relatively mild ride in the District, but the infectious disease is widespread in many states, including Maryland and Virginia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that could all change, as the course of the flu season is notoriously unpredictable.
Experts say that frequent hand-washing, keeping your fingers away from your face, eyes and mouth and steering clear of people who are coughing and sneezing might help keep you healthy. But the best way to avoid flu altogether is to succumb to a shot, which is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older.
The vaccine takes about two weeks to become effective, but it's not too late: Supplies remain plentiful and available at such locations as pharmacies and grocery stores. The CDC provides a Flu Vaccine Finder at www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm.
Two points to remember: Influenza's not just a bad cold; it can be deadly. And you cannot catch it from the vaccine.
Take a CPR class
February is an ideal time to get your CPR training or update your certification. Not only is it American Heart Month, but it's also when we risk overexerting ourselves while shoveling snow or pushing cars out of snowbanks.
William Suddath, an interventional cardiologist at Washington Hospital Center, says the combination of cold air and exertion is conducive to heart attack and sudden cardiac death. When I spoke with him last week, he said his hospital had seen "a significant rise in the number of patients helicoptered [or otherwise transported] to the ER in the past week or 10 days" for heart attacks or sudden deaths related to the snow. Making matters worse, weather-related gridlock can prevent emergency vehicles from reaching victims in a timely manner, Suddath said. So keeping someone alive with CPR could really make a difference.
Find a class near you on the American Heart Association's Web site. Do it for someone you love.
So long, chest strap
Heart-rate monitors deliver important information, but they can be complicated to use and a pain to wear while exercising. The new ePulse2 ($130 on Amazon.com) fixes that: You strap it around your forearm, where it reads your pulse by monitoring the blood moving through the big veins there. You can program it to calculate calories burned and other data - all without a chest strap. I'd rather get one of these for Valentine's Day than a big box of chocolates. Find more information at www.impactsports.com.
When you exercise or shovel snow, the American Heart Association recommends that you stay between 50 and 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, which you can estimate by subtracting your age from the 220. So, if you're 50 like me, your maximum heart rate is 170 beats per minute.
Free tai chi
The precise, slo-mo poses of the Chinese martial arts practice of tai chi has been shown to help reduce hypertension, a key contributor to cardiovascular disease. The T'ai Chi Ch'uan Study Center offers free classes every Saturday morning in McLean (8 to 9 a.m., St. Luke Catholic Church School, 7005 Georgetown Pike Route 193). The sessions are indoors through March, then move outdoors to McLean Central Park on April 2. Call 703-759-9141 or visit www.taichicenter.com.
If you're up for more of a commitment, try Body Balance Healing Arts in Clarksburg. The first class is free; after that, you'll talk with owner and master instructor Pat Hancock to work out a year-long program of study. (Most people end up paying about $157 a month for two classes per week.) There's a beginners' class Tuesday and Thursday from 6 to 7 p.m. (15211 Comus Rd.). Call 301-972-5644 or visit www.taichikungfu.com.
Another option is Capitol Hill Tai Chi, which offers a class every Saturday morning (weather permitting) from 8 to 10 a.m. at Lincoln Park (11th and East Capitol Street SE) for $50 a month. Call 202-544-6035 or visit www.capitolhilltaichi.com.