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ISSUE 119 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/3/2006

Hugging your heart: Consider exercise, diet

By Katy Gustafson
Contributing Writers

Friday, March 3, 2006

Every 30 seconds, someone dies of heart disease. In fact, it is the number one killer in America, claiming over one million lives a year. That is more than the next six causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer. Heart disease affects both genders and all races equally.

Keeping this in mind is important for people of all ages to stop and take care of their heart. Wait, all ages? Isn't heart disease something that affects only old people? Hardly! It is the second leading natural cause of death in people age 20 to 24 (not including accidents, homicide and suicide.)

Also, atherosclerosis, which occurs when fatty deposits accumulate in the blood vessels, starts as early as childhood and is already evident by the time a person reaches 20 years old.

As a nursing major, I have seen firsthand the effects of unhealthy lifestyles during clinicals at the Heart Hospital at Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis. Many of the patients that I have cared for have said, “I wish I had taken better care of my body when I was younger!” or, “If only I had cared!”

It is so disheartening to come home from these experiences and observe the lifestyles that my fellow Oles lead: not exercising, eating out every night, banking on the fact that they are young and will “live healthy” when they are older.

I am very aware of the unhealthy lifestyles that college students lead. It is extremely difficult when I try to tell people that heart disease prevention begins now and they say, “That's nice,” and continue staring at the TV, binge drinking and eating junk. Many Oles just do not care.

A recent study by the National Institute of Health found that cardiovascular fitness in early adulthood significantly decreases the chance of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke in middle or late adulthood. This illustrates the importance of developing healthy lifestyle habits now. As college students, we need to eat healthy and become physically fit now, and remain fit into our adulthood.

There are several things that we can do now to cut down on our risk factors for developing heart disease. One of the most important is to not smoke. Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Also, it is important to avoid stress, and to find ways to relax and have fun.

Another thing is to modify your diet. It is important to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and keep smaller portions. It can be very easy to overeat in the Caf, but it is important to be conscious of how much you are actually eating. Finally, the most important way to love your heart is to exercise for 30 minutes a day, five times a week.

Aerobic activities, such as cycling, jogging and swimming, raise your heart rate and strengthen your heart. Exercise can be a great thing to do with friends and roommates, and Tostrud has options for people at all levels of fitness.

Consistent with the theme of sustainability, it is important that we all protect the most valuable resource of all, ourselves.

If we all follow these tips, maybe we can be the generation in which heart disease is not the leading cause of death. It seems a far way off, but it is possible. For more information on heart disease, please visit the American Heart Association's website,

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