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A Change of Heart for Valentine's Day

14/02/2014 11:23 GMT | Updated 16/04/2014 10:59 BST

As I scanned the shelves yesterday for the perfect Valentine's Day card for my wife, the familiar shape of a heart appeared again and again. It was dressed up in a variety of guises - red, gold, glittered and sequined - but the shape stayed the same, as did the meaning: a heart and the act of giving it to someone else as a token of love.

And it got me thinking: if you're going to give your heart to someone, wouldn't you like to do what you can to make sure it's a healthy one? Putting my doctor's hat on, heart disease is the biggest killer worldwide, claiming over 17 million lives a year. By 2030 this figure is expected to rise to 23 million. For something that's largely preventable, this is a worrying stat. It screams that people are not taking heart health seriously enough.

We hear all the time that we need to eat well and exercise for a healthy heart. But what about the things we do day-to-day without even considering how it may affect our heart. The things we do simply because it's the status quo. Such as the box of chocolates you'll buy alongside your Valentine's card, or an equally sugar-laden sentiment. According to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this month, the amount of added sugar you consume on a daily basis may increase your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

The research analysed trends of total daily added sugar consumption in more than 30,000 adults over the last few decades. It looked at over 11,000 people to specifically investigate the link between sugar consumption and dying from cardiovascular disease. Added sugar included foods and drinks such as candy, sweetened drinks, processed foods and dairy desserts.

The researchers found that most adults (just over 70%) consumed more than 10% of their daily calories from added sugar, which is more than what the World Health Organization recommends. What's more, between 2005 and 2010, 10% of adults consumed a quarter or more of their daily calorie intake from added sugar.

Compared to those who had less than 10% of their daily calories from added sugar, those who consumed between 10 and 24.9% had a 30% increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, those who got 25% or more of their daily calories from added sugar had almost triple the risk.

Although this study doesn't prove a direct cause and effect, more an observation between the two, what's clear is that the vast majority of people are consuming much more sugar than they should be. And it could be having a silent but deadly long-term effect on your health.

I'm not suggesting that eating a few chocolates this Valentine's Day is going to give you heart disease, and every now and then treats are fine in moderation. But perhaps this year, don't laden the person you love with chocolate, but instead a healthier alternative. Fresh strawberries covered in yoghurt for breakfast, a romantic walk or a seafood supper? A change of heart can create a change in behaviour. All small things that could make the difference.

This Valentine's Day, I'll be up for my usual 5km Friday morning run because I know that it's the best thing I can do for my heart, and looking after my health is the best gift I can give to my loved one, especially as heart disease is in my genes.

If running isn't your thing, how about walking? Walking has proven benefits for heart health. It's the easiest form of exercise you can do - you've already got the necessary equipment, it's free and you already know how to do it.

You could take inspiration from those who have already walked for heart health with the Bupa Ground Miles Challenge. We've seen over one million people from over 150 countries walk five million miles, with people continuing to walk together in 'groups' on the app.

Though Valentine's Day only comes round once a year, it's the perfect time to think about yours and your loved one's heart and make changes for a healthier future. Enjoy the day, and have a healthy one.