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  1. Health

Think outside the chocolate box this Valentine's Day

Lavinia Rodriguez
Published Feb. 5, 2014

Valentine's Day is a time of love, sweets, flowers, perhaps a fancy dinner out.

But considering the fact that so many Americans struggle with overeating, inactivity and ill health, perhaps we should rethink how we express our love. Is it really a loving gesture to give our main squeeze a big box of bonbons for Valentine's Day? If we want the best for our special ones and want them around for as long as possible, how does a heavy restaurant meal really say that?

If you let tradition, advertising and peer pressure guide you, you might find that Valentine's Day will come and go and you will have given little thought to what your partner really needs and what would make him or her truly happy in the long run. When you really love someone, you want to live life together joyfully. These are the things that we ought to think about on Valentine's Day and every other day.

Partners can help or hurt each other's goals for weight loss, health, fitness and even happiness. This Valentine's Day, how about putting more thought into the message behind the gift? "I love you so much that I want to contribute to your health and wellness, not get in the way of it," is a loving message. And by using your imagination, you can give more creative, surprising, fun gifts than ever before. Here are a few ideas:

• Create custom coupons for your lover, redeemable at any time for healthy and active gifts. Perhaps you're married to a gardener. A coupon to help install that new garden she or he has been wanting would please any gardener.

• Since emotional health is just as important as physical health, how about giving your loved one a relaxing and invigorating massage with scented massage oils? Where the massage leads is entirely up to you both. Sex, after all, is about pleasure, romance, excitement, activity and lots of heavy breathing. That fits in nicely with a happy and healthful Valentine's Day.

• Take your significant other to a beautiful place where you can enjoy a healthy picnic and romantic walk, sharing the things you appreciate about each other along the way. I was once taken on a surprise nature walk at the Withlacoochee State Park, and each time I think about that day it brings a smile to my face.

• Cook a colorful and nutritious meal together, sipping on a glass of heart-healthy wine as you work. While the meal is cooking, take a break and dance to your favorite music.

• Buy each other some comfortable and fun workout clothing and use it right away on a romantic Valentine's Day stroll or invigorating bike ride.

• Go dancing or take dance lessons together. Or just dance in the house together. It doesn't matter if you have rhythm or not. It's about moving and having fun. So let go and move together.

You can continue to give loving gifts throughout the year. For example, you can:

• Respect and support each other's exercise routine.

• During typical sedentary times, do stretching exercises together or work out while watching TV.

• Share active hobbies.

• Ask your partner if there's anything you can do to help with health goals and then make sure you follow through.

• Give your loved one the gift of your own longer and healthier life. Take good care of yourself.

Just think how pleasantly surprised your sweetheart will be to see how imaginative you can be, and how truly loved they are.

Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send questions to her at drrod@fatmatters.com.

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