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Daniels raises awareness about heart disease

Jenn Metz | Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cheri Daniels, the First Lady of Indiana, was on campus Tuesday as part of her Heart to Heart Initiative to spread information about how the some of the risks for heart disease, the leading cause of death for women, can be reduced by lifestyle changes.

Heart to Heart visits college campuses throughout the state, offers free screenings and offers students tips on how to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Cindy Adams, nurse practitioner and director of the Healthy Hearts Center of Indiana Heart Hospital, also presented.

The event, which took place in the Eck Visitors’ Center Auditorium, included free cholesterol and glucose screenings provided by the Indiana Heart Hospital, health education booths provided by the St. Joseph County Health Department, Minority Health Coalition and United Health Services. Notre Dame’s Health Services and RecSports also had tables in the lobby with additional health information.

Daniels told The Observer she began her initiative because she “felt that people were not aware that heart disease was the number one killer of women.”

She said she became aware after her mother was diagnosed with cardiovascular disease; since then, she has been spreading the message of the importance of taking control of heart health.

She told The Observer she has received positive feedback about her presentations and that screening results have surprised some participants.

“Kids in college, they think they’re bullet-proof,” she said, and cited a healthy-weight, semi-active female student, who, during a previous program, was very surprised to find she had high cholesterol.

“It’s very good for people to learn about their own health and the changes they have to make to their lifestyles to improve it,” Daniels said.

Anne Kleve, the director of Notre Dame Health Services, introduced the speakers by welcoming them to campus and thanking them for visiting and sharing their information.

Daniels spoke first, and addressed why it has been her initiative to speak to people of college age about heart disease.

“Heart disease is starting to present itself in women younger and younger,” she said. “You can make lifestyle changes in your late teens and early 20’s – this is a great time to start leading a healthy heart life.”

She listed three modifiable factors, or things that people can do, to reduce their risk for heart disease: blood pressure, weight and smoking habits.

“We re recently learning more and more about how important it is for women in particular to start paying attention to heart health,” she said, and told the audience that almost 500,000 women die from heart disease each year.

“Heart disease does not discriminate,” Daniels said. “It’s pretty frightening.”

She cited the importance of knowing blood pressure and both HDL and LDL cholesterol figures, staying within the weight guidelines for your height, and quitting smoking, which she said is “the most important thing you can do for yourself.” A yearly physical, Daniels said, is important to help keep track of these numbers, to see trends and to spot problems.

Daniels stressed the importance of making time for regular exercise, even though it might be hard to fit physical activity into busy college schedules.

All lifestyle changes should not be made at once to ensure success, Daniels said. “You need to go slowly” because if you go overboard, and start an extreme new diet and exercise regime you’ll “be staving, you’ll be sore and then you’ll quit.”

She said exercise can also help college students cope with the stress they experience at school, and that they will see both a difference in their physical appearance and the way the feel by performing 30-60 minutes of physical activity on most days.

Daniels encouraged the audience to share the information they learned during the program with loved ones and to make a pledge to themselves that they are “going to take steps to lead a healthier life and lead by example.”

“Give yourself the best gift you can – the gift of exercise, the gift of a heart healthy life,” she said.

Adams gave a PowerPoint presentation about misconceptions about cardiovascular disease in women, risk factors and symptoms.

According to a recent survey that asked women what they perceived to be their biggest health concern, almost half said breast cancer, Adams said. Heart disease was the fourth most popular answer, following an unspecified cancer and AIDS.

“In actuality, over 35 percent of women are likely to die of cardiovascular disease,” Adams said.

She said it is very important to be aware of both modifiable and nonmodifiable factors that contribute to heart disease, to be aggressive in getting your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers down, to treat diabetes and to maintain a healthy weight.

Adams encouraged the audience to begin their lifestyle changes as soon as possible.

“It’s up to you, protect your heart health, start today,” she said.

Along with fliers and booklets containing health information, those in attendance received Heart to Heart bracelets and a card with more information about the program and its Web site address, hearttoheart.in.gov

The audience at Tuesday’s presentation contained more male students than when Daniels has brought Heart to Heart to other state universities, like Purdue, Ball State and Indiana University.

“Usually there are just a handful of men,” Daniels told the Observer after the presentation. “Though its just as important for them to be aware about cardiovascular disease, which we’ve known for a long time to be the number one killer of men too,” she said.