June 18, 2019 | 75° F

Rutgers recognizes February as 'Heart Health Month'

Photo by Maha Hadaya |

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, taking more than 700,000 lives each year. Rutgers is working to combat this statistic by encouraging healthy lifestyle choices during February.

The Rutgers community celebrates the month of February as Heart Health Month, teaching students and faculty simple ways to help prevent heart disease and stay fit.

As of 2011 heart disease has become the number one leading cause of death in the United States, killing upwards of 700,000 people annually. There is a heart-related episode every 34 seconds, according to The Heart Foundation.

Heart Health Month is celebrated annually at Rutgers—New Brunswick, as well as on the campuses in Newark and Camden. Throughout the month students and faculty are encouraged to get informed and partake in numerous events such as nutritional counseling, cholesterol testing and Body Mass Index checks, according to Rutgers Health Services.

While it seems like students are years away from having to concern themselves with such issues, bad habits and the wrong mentality can cause early onset problems in students like high blood pressure, said School of Arts and Sciences senior Mihir Shah, co-president of the American Medical Student Association Rutgers chapter.

When students fall into the mentality that they are immune to heart problems, it catches up to them in their later years when real issues arise. Similarly, if students form good habits early on, such as constant exercise and a proper diet, it can help set a strong foundation for the future, Shah said. 

Running is a great way to build the heart muscle, but that should not limit students from going out and using their fitness in a game of basketball, he said. Students should maintain a balanced diet consisting of healthy foods like salads and the occasional slice of pizza, but should refrain from eating four slices in one sitting.

A healthy lifestyle is a great way for students to lower their chances of heart disease early on, and can also benefit their family members. Every 20 years beyond the age of 40 the risk of heart disease nearly triples, according to The American Heart Health Association.

“Students that have loved ones experiencing issues with their heart health can provide them with this knowledge and support. Being there emotionally can make all the difference. Making sure they’re compliant with their medication is crucial to their overall recovery as well,” Shah said.

A growing awareness of these medical issues has driven education a long way from where it once was. People are now learning the correct steps to take in order to maintain and achieve optimal heart health at an earlier age so these complications are less likely to develop, Shah said.

While the information provides students with the necessary tools to live healthier lives, it is often helpful to hear advice from fellow students. 

Rhea Allen, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said she likes to incorporate daily cardiovascular exercise and avoid red meat in order to stay healthy. 

Having a genetic predisposition to these conditions is often overlooked and can make living a healthy life even more difficult, she said.

“I haven’t always been healthy. I have an ovarian disease that causes my hormones to fluctuate mainly due to genetics. It’s hard for me to keep in check, but I try and eat as many greens as possible. I hear white meat is also good for heart health," Allen said.

In making changes to one's health, a complete overhaul is unlikely to happen overnight, Allen said. The best way to make a change is by incorporating small habits into your daily routine, like cutting out excess sugar and adding moderate exercise.

Time is constantly being occupied by things like school, work and social lives, which places health on the back burner, Allen said. But when unhealthy practices combine with genetic factors, diabetes and heart disease are major threats.

"One of my grandparents has heart disease and one of my parents has a heart condition that he manages through medication," Allen said. "Simply by using moderate exercise, such as jogging for 30 minutes, they have both been able to significantly better their conditions and live healthier lives."

Christian Zapata

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