The negative habits students may develop during college can lead to heart disease, according to Utah Valley Hospital supervisor of cardiovascular rehabilitation Traci Heiner.
Heiner said students’ lifestyles can affect their heart health in the future. She said a lack of sleep, nutrition and exercise can cause bad habits that propel people into heart disease.
“The biggest things with college students are that you can get away with not sleeping very much, not eating very healthy, studying all day long, not exercising and you don’t feel those effects right away,” Heiner said.
Heiner said students with busy schedules often jeopardize their health by putting off the necessary things to keep the heart in good condition. She said if students start healthy habits now, they can avoid potential heart problems in the future.
“The problem is the heart disease is starting at that time,” Heiner said. “Even though they don’t feel any of it, (students) are starting to build plaque up in their arteries. They are propelling themselves to heart disease at a much faster rate than if they are taking care of themselves right now.”
Being heart healthy means being somebody who is consistently active daily and conscious about nutrition, according to Heiner. She said those are the two biggest components someone has control over and can maintain for a healthy heart.
Jaron Fowers, BYU pre-med student and intern with cardiovascular rehabilitation at Utah Valley Hospital, agrees students should try to eat healthier and exercise often.
“Students (should) focus more on healthier choices with diets, like lower sodium, lower saturated fats and more vegetables and fruit,” Fowers said. “We are walking to and from campus often, and that is a lot more exercise than people normally get. Continue that and maybe even expand that to more exercise throughout the week.”
Director of Heart Services at Utah Valley Hospital Jane Fox said college students can maintain a healthy heart with some simple life adjustments.
“Be active and get up off the couch. Walk between class, walk from your apartment, don’t take the shuttle,” Fox said. “Also, watching what you eat. You don’t want to eat high saturated fats. Get the right amount of sleep, which is seven hours. I know it can be hard, but it is very important.”
According to Fox, individuals should take 10,000 steps and exercise for 30 minutes with their heart rate above 100 beats per minute at least five days a week. She said something that can help achieve the step goal is to find any excuse to walk.
Fox said in addition to exercising, sleep is also important for the heart because it reduces stress levels and helps students reboot with enough energy and focus for the rest of their week.
“(When you sleep,) your blood pressure is down, your heart rate is down and it just puts your body at rest for the next day,” Fox said. “You need that downtime.”
Different areas of the heart produce different health problems, according to Fox. Living a healthy life can keep different parts of the heart healthy and working properly.
“First of all, you have a plumbing system—arteries—that carry the oxygen to the blood and heart muscle, which keeps it healthy and functioning,” Fox said. “As you eat high cholesterol and don’t exercise, that cholesterol builds up inside those arteries and eventually closes off, and that’s what causes a heart attack.”
Fox said it’s important for students to know if heart disease runs in the family. She said genetics can be a good indicator of whether or not to watch for heart problems.
One myth about heart disease is that it only happens in old age, but according to Fox,it is now becoming more common among people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
“Interview relatives to know heart history. If (a person has) someone that has had heart problems at a young age, that’s a good clue,” Fox said. “We are having people in their late 20s who have had heart attacks. It’s not just a disease of the elderly. It can affect you when you’re young.”
Getting students to understand that heart disease can develop at a young age is hard, according to Heiner.
“It’s hard to tell someone who is feeling great and doesn’t feel those effects right now, but the reality is it is starting now,” Heiner said. People are coming in with heart issues at younger and younger ages.”
Fowers said his tip to college students would be to find a companion to help be accountable for staying healthy and maintaining a better lifestyle. Fowers said his wife helps him stay healthy, but even students who are not married can look to a friend, roommate or classmate to help with healthier living.
Fox said she stresses the importance of eating right, participating in physical activity, educating oneself and getting the right amount of sleep in order to be heart-healthy.
“The habits that you form and make while you’re younger can make a big difference to the rest of your life,” Fox said.