It’s officially fall, y'all! September means a few things: classes are back in session, and it’s an exciting month for education through the American Heart Association!
As a college student, it can be very easy to slip into habits that put your heart health at risk. When time seems to be a limited resource, we often compromise by neglecting our physical health. One of the best ways we can become more conscious and avoid the formation of some of these habits is through simple education. Since I’m a current college student at UW, you can bet that I’m all about education!
Did you know that September is Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD), Cholesterol, and Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) month? Are you aware of each of these conditions and ways that you can prevent them from becoming factors in your life? That’s why education is so important! Once we are aware of risk factors and how to take action to avoid them, we can begin making positive decisions today – it’s never too early or too late to start learning and applying that education to your life!
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) occurs when the peripheral arteries in the legs, stomach, arms, and head begin to narrow. This occurs most commonly in the legs, and can lead to cramping and muscular pain that can result in restricted circulation. With proper management, PAD can be treated before tissue becomes infected or dies or a heart attack or stroke occurs. No matter how old you are, listen to what your body is telling you: if you have pain in your legs, hips, stomach, arms, or head that usually goes away when you rest, it could be PAD. Educate yourself further and evaluate your risk level by having a conversation with your doctor before it is too late.
Cholesterol is a topic that seems to be more commonly known and talked about, but do you actually know about the signs and symptoms of high cholesterol, or how easily it can affect you? In the U.S. alone, about 1.3 million people live with this condition, yet only 10% of them are officially diagnosed. Nearly 2 million others are living with high cholesterol and don't realize it. Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH, or high cholesterol), is genetic. If even just one parent has FH, each child has at least a 50% chance of also developing the condition. Furthermore, if left untreated, men are 50% more likely to have a heart attack by the age 50. Women have a 30% risk by age 60. However, the good news is that cholesterol levels are also treatable and preventable. Younger generations (especially college students who are at a prime age to fall into these readily available bad habits!) should begin taking steps to protect themselves: avoid smoking, exercise on a regular basis, eat a healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats, and get your cholesterol levels tested if you have a family history of heart disease. If you are already living with the condition of FH, take your medications and follow your doctor’s directions! 1 in every 200 people will develop FH in their lifetime. Learn more about it and test your risk level at www.heart.org/cholesterol. It's quick and easy- just what college students like!
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) occurs when an individual’s irregular heartbeat, also called arrhythmia, leads to blood clots, stroke, or even heart failure. Currently, 2.7 million Americans live with this condition. Do you know how to determine your risk factors for AFib? Your age, high blood pressure levels, alcohol consumption, athleticism and activity level, sleep apnea, and family history all impact your risk for developing atrial fibrillation. Those with AFib are 5 times more likely to have stroke than those living without the condition. Once stroke occurs, it is the leading cause of long-term disability. So how do we prevent the formation of AFib? If you have irregular heartbeat, work on your rhythm control (returning heart rate to its normal state), and reduce the number of times you have an overly high heart rate (called rate control). Also manage your risk factors for strokes and blood clots, which can prevent heart failure. Again, have a conversation with your doctor! They may have certain medications to prescribe to you that will help reduce your risk for stroke or AFib.
Being a college student can present extra challenges to maintaining your heart health. When we are rushing around to balance classes, homework, full time jobs, extracurricular activities, and a social life, those bad habits seem to be readily available. Rather than falling into those patterns, I encourage you to take a little time each day to consciously and positively impact your heart health! Eventually, these will become second nature. If the weather is nice, take an extra 10 minutes to walk or bike to class rather than driving. Choose the stairs rather than the elevator! Even if you have only half an hour to work out, take it! That’s better than getting little to no physical activity at all. Many colleges offer free gym memberships on campus, and have fitness classes that you can sign up for with your roommates and friends. For example, I tried Boga Fit for the first time last night- and it was only a 40 minute class commitment! (If you haven’t heard of this yet you should definitely look it up and try it! It’s a new combination of HIIT, cardio, and yoga on mats in a pool. Once you relax and become okay with falling in, it’s so much fun! I’m pretty sure that half of my ab workout was from laughing.) My muscles may be sore today, but my heart is thanking me for it! Also, try meal prepping! When I know that I have a full week ahead, I take some time on my Sunday nights to cook extra of my favorite healthy meals and distribute them into containers that I can grab-and-go when things get busy. This keeps me out of fast food restaurants and makes sure that I’m eating foods that can fuel me both physically and mentally so that I am sure to succeed in classes while helping my heart. It’s a win-win situation!
Don’t forget to get involved with the lifesaving advocacy work of the American Heart Association today! Add your voice by simply texting HEART to 46839 right now, or visit https://www.yourethecure.org/join. It only takes a few minutes, and you will be part of a powerful movement to make a difference and save lives.
Forever your Miss Wyoming 2017 and AHA Advocate,