Looking inside the gene pool

By Erica Thomas and By Erica Thomas

Freshman Leslie Nelson’s grandparents have both undergone heart surgeries. Now she works out at the Rec to prevent heart disease. But Nelson’s grandparents aren’t the biggest factor in determining her risk for heart disease; according to a new study, her siblings get that job.

The National Institute of Health says a sibling with heart disease is a greater predictor for risk than are parents. Robert Heizelman, a physician at the Student Health Center, agrees with this finding.

“Heart disease is a mixture of genetic components and lifestyle choices,” Heizelman said. “Influences of a person’s environment along with genes and medical problems they inherit from their parents, make it only logical for siblings to share these traits.”

While the majority of college students are famously not health conscientious, there are reasons why they should be. The American Heart Association’s studies show that the hardening of the arteries, a process which contributes to the 2.5 million lives claimed by heart disease each year, begins in the late teens to early twenties.

But before students run off to the Student Recreation Center, there are other measures they must also take to improve their health and keep their hearts pumping strong.

For starters, a healthy diet will benefit in preventing heart disease. And improving health requires “a low fat diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, monitored cholesterol levels and an increase of fiber consumption,” Heizelman said.

He added that avoiding smoking and alcohol consumption will also play a major role in preventing heart disease.

Despite what the studies show, not all students are concerned with developing heart disease.

“My family doesn’t have a history of heart disease, but even if they did, I probably wouldn’t worry about it,” said Melissa Hrusovsky, freshman.

But if students decide to take the initiative, the SRC is a good place to start.

“Cardiovascular activity, thirty to forty minutes at a time, four to five times a week will help the heart,” Heizelman said.

Any sort of physical activity will help lower the risk of heart disease, according to Heizelman.

“I think people know what to do,” he said. “It’s actually doing it is what’s the problem.”