[heart]Let’s face it, we have all the time in the world to worry about matters of the heart when it comes to love lives, hookups and breakups – but what about keeping the actual ticker ticking? February is National Heart Health Month and there is no better time than now to begin caring for the blood-pumping, oft-neglected best friend in the chest.
According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women. And while heart disease is most prevalent in older adults, young adults are not immune to heart problems. Surprisingly, about 11 percent of men ages 20-34 and about 6 percent of females ages 20-34 have cardiovascular disease, according to the National Heart Association’s 2006 statistic update.
MSU cardiologist and professor Dr. George Abela said the most common heart problems seen in students are usually related to stress or to some congenital heart problem. He said these problems include abnormal electrical conduction due to short circuits, which can cause palpitations and abnormal thickening of the heart muscle, which can result in fainting during physical exercise.
Abela said the exact effect of stress on the heart is not very well understood but it has some impact nonetheless. “Stress can help bring out an underlying problem. The overall status of the heart is related to a multi-factorial of events often occurring simultaneously,” he said. Abela recommended students not smoke to help keep their hearts stronger. Any students who have problems with abnormal heart rhythms or fainting spells should seek medical attention.
Physiology professor Richard Miksicek said the best way to take care of your heart is to start early (read: yesterday). He said a vast majority of heart diseases progress slowly over many years due to a combination of many factors like heredity, diet and activity level. “The answer is simple: lifestyle, lifestyle and lifestyle,” said Miksicek. “Guidelines for a healthy lifestyle apply every bit as much to a college student in his or her twenties as they do to a person approaching their retirement years.” He recommends watching total caloric intake and avoiding foods high in fat and cholesterol, such as red meat, full-fat cheeses and salad dressings. He also said regular physical activity is another important key to a stronger heart. Regular physical activity is defined by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion as physical activity that is performed most days of the week. “A strong heart beats more efficiently than a weak heart and has to beat less often to do the same amount of work,” said Miksicek.
[exercise]When it comes to the best exercise for the heart, Dr. Jeff Kovan of the MSU Sports Medicine Department said aerobic workouts such as running, swimming and cycling will best improve heart function. He said anaerobic workouts like weight training are also beneficial.
Human biology junior Colleen Kildee said she exercises every day and tries to eat a balanced diet. “In the past few years it seems like I have heard more about the importance of taking care of my heart, which is why running and eating oatmeal are parts of my regular morning routine,” said Kildee. If all students could be this motivated, we\’d definitely have some healthy hearts across campus.
Brandon Castillon, an advertising sophomore, also makes an effort to be fit. He said he lifts weights often and runs a couple times per week. “I definitely keep active, but some people I know are just the opposite, definitely not taking care of their hearts,” he said.
Castillon said he really has to watch his health because he has diabetes. “Because I’m diabetic I am forced to pay more attention to my health than the average college student, which is actually a pretty good advantage,” he said. He thinks many people assume they can start worrying about their hearts when they are older, because that is when most problems arise.
Communication junior Julian Mardirosian said he has many friends who participate in what he considers unhealthy heart behaviors. “There are so many guys I know that never work out, eat fast food and pizza every day and are always consuming alcohol,” he said. Mardirosian said he is aware of the importance of taking care of his heart because heart problems run in his family. Mardirosian’s grandfather died of a heart attack when he was in his forties and his father had an artificial heart valve inserted in his early thirties. “I try to eat healthy and stay active because I’ve seen what can happen if you don’t take care of your heart. You don’t have to be 50 years old to have heart problems.”
While many students know the importance of heart health and even the steps to maintaining their health, sometimes classes, jobs, clubs, parties and significant others can get in the way. Health psychology professor Zaje Harrell said time management skills are often the missing puzzle piece when it comes to college students and heart health. “The easy access to unhealthy food choices and a sedentary lifestyle is a problem for some college students,” said Harell. “For many people, time management problems present an important barrier to healthy living.”
She said it is hard to modify unhealthy habits started at a young age, and some parts of a typical college lifestyle can interfere with a heart healthy lifestyle. Harrell said many students have not been taught the skills to balance their academic commitments with other important aspects of their lives, such as exercise or eating a balanced diet.
Latavia Lewis, a criminal justice sophomore, said she plans on worrying about her heart later in life. “I don’t work out and I love to eat brownies and ice cream; I just don’t really think about the health of my heart,” she said. Lewis said some members of her family are overweight, but none of them have specific health problems so far.
[food]Communication senior Nicole Brown said she thinks college is the time to enjoy food and not to worry about future health problems. “When you are young, you shouldn’t be counting calories, carbohydrates and fat – you should be enjoying yourself and doing what makes you happy,” she said. Brown is aware of heart problems and of her increased risk as a black female, but right now she doesn’t take any measures to prevent future problems. “My favorite foods include pork chops, ice cream, ravioli and steak, and I eat exactly what I want, when I want it,” she said. Brown said she plans on working out and making healthier food choices after she graduates in May.
But according to MSU experts, waiting until later in life is not the best option when it comes to taking care of your heart. And it is possible (but not necessarily easy) to live healthfully in college. There are healthy options offered in the dorm cafeterias, and for those who live off campus, the grocery stores have a wide selection of healthy foods. Students can also squeeze in some exercise by walking to classes – the trek from Brody to Hubbard could probably burn off the extra calories from choosing sugar-loaded Cocoa Puffs instead of heart healthy Cheerios for breakfast. And the fitness facilities on and around campus are always welcoming new members.
A semester fitness pass to IM West and IM East is $75. Gold’s Gym on Hagadorn Road offers a semester pass for $130, six months for $220 and 12 months for $299. Powerhouse Gym on Grand River Avenue charges $129 for a semester, $229 for six months and $329 for 12 months.
This month take care of your heart in more than one way: invite a date over for a heart-friendly meal and a jog (you might want to jog before eating). Instead of buying jewelry or flowers for Valentine’s Day, a gym membership might be a great idea – that is, if you don’t think the statement will end the relationship. And don’t forget moderate amounts of dark chocolate and a glass of red wine for a healthy dose of romance.

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