Special to South Florida Times

This Valentine’s Day, Monday, Feb. 14, could be an opportunity for us to express our gratitude to those who are near and dear to us.  Here are 14 healthy ways to really celebrate the joys of friendship.

Show the love: Write a letter (or a few) to someone you cherish and describe your most vivid and happy memory with him or her. 

♥ Love Mother Nature: Make a date with friends, family or that special someone to go to a park. Spend time feeding the fish, chasing ducks or having a picnic.

♥ Love your creativity: Make it an arts and craft event. Go to a dollar store and buy construction paper, Popsicle sticks, pieces of cloth, stuffing and glue and then let your creative side go to work. Make something nice for the person who is participating in the event with you.

♥ Lend a hand: Research nearby organizations that are working with needy children or adults or helping the environment and volunteer (such as visiting www.volunteerbroward.org). Encourage friends, family or your significant other to volunteer with you. Spread friendship and love on Valentine’s Day by helping others and making a difference.  You’ll experience helper’s high.

♥ Share a smile: You can purchase inexpensive Valentine’s Day cards at a dollar store or create some of your own. Pass them around at a mall or shopping center and remind others of the joys of sharing a smile with a stranger. Make the world a better place on this day by showing people how much we love them.  After all, smiles are contagious.

♥ Get both your hearts pumping: Take a walk with a loved one on Valentine’s Day. Let the more reluctant person determine how long you’ll walk and the speed of the walk. The fitter person can move his or her arms briskly.  Exercise benefits every body system: heart, lung, immune system, muscles.  It can cure hypertension and stabilize blood sugar levels.

Heart healthy snacks: Rather than indulging in more chocolate and candy, consider healthy snacks such as fruit kabobs on straws, sugar-free red Jello cups, oatmeal cookies with dried cherries or dried cranberries, mini bagels with real strawberries and cream cheese, and Mini muffins or slices of banana bread or any fruit bread.

Love the kids: Instead of sitting around eating for most of the time, choose activities that get kids excited and moving. If you are going to the playground, consider putting a Valentine’s Day twist on some popular favorites. Duck, Duck, Goose can be turned into Be, Be, Mine. Steal the Bacon can be Steal My Heart with two teams vying to capture a heart-shaped object (a red ball will work too).

Dark Chocolate Fondue for Two: Skip the boxes of chocolates and make your Valentine dark chocolate fondue. Packed with flavonoids, the dark stuff helps prevent heart disease and lowers blood pressure. Melt up a recipe and dig in with your favorite fresh fruit.

Dr. Marcia Magnus is associate professor of Dietetics and Nutrition at Florida International University. She may be reached at magnus@fiu.edu.