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GUEST BLOG: Football Season Can Be Good For Your Heart

I’m back this month with a topic that hits extremely close to home for me--high school sports and your heart health. I am a cheerleader at my high school and I love cheering on our football and basketball teams. These sports are very important to me because many of my close friends and classmates participate in them. Football season and beyond can be good for your heart health but there are a few things to keep in mind. Let's chat!

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According to a 2008 survey, more than 44 million kids in the United States are reported to play in organized sports, helping them achieve physical activity and fitness recommendations to stay healthy. Although sometimes it may seem like being the strongest player on the field is the most important part of the game, how you take care of your body and how it works is equally important. 

To be involved in athletics of any kind, you need to keep your body healthy. Although, this may sound like it would be an easy job for a young person, it can be tough at times. On top of all of the other activities of the typical teenager, when you add a full-time sport (or more than one sport, in some cases), you are doubling the amount of stress in a teen’s day-to-day life. From personal experience, I know that it can sometimes seem impossible to juggle all of my extracurricular activities AND stay in good shape. With after school practices and games, it is easy to get a good amount of exercise. But, exercise is not the only aspect of keeping your body healthy. 

First, why is it important to stay in good shape? When you are in good physical condition you perform better, feel better, and have more energy to engage in other things you love to do. We all know there are more important things than sports, and we still need energy for those things as well! Keeping yourself in good health is the perfect way to make sure you always perform at your best in any sport you may play. 

Although you always want to stay in good shape for your favorite sport, you also need to learn to listen to your body. Now, what do I mean by listening to your body? Well, as my cheer coach always says, “Your body will give you signs, all you have to do is LISTEN.” In my school, I see athletes ignore injuries simply so they will not have to sit out and miss a game or practice. This is only causing more harm to their bodies and their injuries are not given time to heal properly. Later on in life, many athletes will start to see the repercussions of these ignored injuries. Not only can you take care of your body by listening to it, you can also take care of it by controlling what you are putting into it. Remember that as important as sports may be to you, your health is always the most important thing. Your body and how well it is functioning is so precious and important. After all, you only get ONE! 

In last month's blog, we discussed the vaping epidemic among teens and young adults. This topic is extremely relevant in this month’s blog as well. High school athletes are among the many teens who are using e-cigarettes and vaping. Athletes, whether they are running up and down a football field or basketball court, need to be able to breathe well. E-cigarette users inhale and exhale a vapor-like aerosol that includes, in addition to nicotine, potentially harmful substances such as diacetyl (a chemical linked to a serious lung disease), cancer-causing chemicals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead – definitely not the things athletes need in their bodies! Research has shown that e-cigarettes are bad for your heart as well. Vaping has been linked to higher risk of stroke, heart attack, and diseased arteries. Your heart needs to be healthy whether you are playing a sport or not, and vaping is only going to harm it in the end!

The National Football League (NFL) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have teamed up on Back to Sports, a program designed to promote physical activity and safe sport participation among youth. The Back to Sports program is geared toward parents of upper elementary, middle and high school students who participate or are considering participating in sports. The program covers a wide variety of topics that are extremely relevant to the life of a young athlete, and are things that we need to be aware of. The Back to Sports program, to me, is extraordinary in the work that they do for athletes of my age. Check it out, here.

In addition, we, as athletes, need to control what we eat and drink on a daily basis. Working out and exercising is not enough to keep yourself in the best physical condition. You also have to eat healthy and always be aware of the ingredients you are feeding your body. Even though I love to indulge in my favorite chicken nuggets and a chocolate shake, I have to remember that I can’t eat them every single day-- as much as I would love to! When you start to eat better, you will start to feel better. According to MedicalNewsToday, not only will you feel like you have more energy, you will see many other benefits such as: clearer skin, better sleep habits, heart disease prevention, and improved mood. As a teenager, I realize these tasks can seem extremely grueling, but they are well worth it and you will soon start to see great benefits. When you start to see the outcome of taking care of your body, you’ll never want to stop!

Lastly, even though I focused mainly on high school athletes, these tips apply to any and all people. Working to get yourself into great physical health will benefit you immensely, whether you are playing sports or not. You will start to feel better and obtain more energy in your day-to-day life. I see these tips as focus points for all people and they should be something we all start to think about! We all have to make sure we are listening to our bodies and controlling what we are putting into them. 

Now, go have a blast this Friday night at your high school football game - I know I will! Playing may be good for your heart health but cheering on your team can simply just make your heart smile! So, get out there and get those hearts smiling!

Until next month, I hope you all enjoyed and learned something new,

--Hannah Walker 

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