Student Life

February’s Heart: The Month of Love or Health?

(Photo courtesy of Frank Bonilla via

When thinking about heart disease, many people look at those who are in the older age range. That is not always the case however, as college-age students also are at great risk. Dr. Alan Dennington, the Chief Medical Officer for Timely Care, finds that over the past decade, the American College of Cardiology has seen a 2% increase in heart disease-ridden college students year over year. 

The month of February is the month of the heart. The chocolate, the flowers, and the nice dinners all point towards one event: Valentine’s Day. What might not be seen, however, is the other heart-related topic of the month. February is designated as “American Heart Month”, with a notable day like “National Wear Red Day” to raise awareness for heart disease in women. 

“For many years, much research has been done regarding cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the adult population with data to support that CVD is the leading cause of death in the United States.  Although the college-aged population is underrepresented in these studies, we do know that they are at risk of developing heart disease due to lifestyle choices,” Saint Ambrose’s Nurse Nancy Hines said, “Similar to adults, their unhealthy choices include poor nutrition, excessive weight gain, alcohol and tobacco use, poor sleeping habits, lack of physical exercise and stress.  Alcohol and other drugs (AOD) can lead to misuse and addiction.”

Nurse Nancy wants people to know that self-care is physical, mental, and spiritual: it all improves the quality of life. Backed by a study from the American College Health Association’s “Spring 2023 Assessment”, roughly 50 percent of students say they are in very good health, while 86% say they are only in good health. But how healthy are we really?

One junior human performance and fitness (HPF) student, Julianna Jones, says she’s had classes where they talk about heart disease, and ways to protect the heart. “[We learned] it’s getting worse each year and getting harder to prevent because we have so many temptations (fast food, big portion sizes). We’ve also talked about how it’s the leading cause of death.”

When considering college-aged students, the numbers are not very high. However, they are high enough to make one think about life choices: what one eats and drinks, how much one works out, and much more. According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), 6.3% of adults aged 18 and older were diagnosed with heart disease in the year 2020. Furthermore, only .9% of those aged 18-44 were diagnosed. 

Like the CDC, Dr. Dennington explains, “Findings also indicate that college men are at greater risk than college women, due to lifestyle choices such as the use of tobacco and cannabis. Men are also more likely to overlook risk factors like high blood pressure.” The use of nicotine, an addictive chemical found in vapes, can also lead to damage of the heart.

Anna Verry, a sophomore nursing student at Saint Ambrose, says the potential unhealthy lifestyles of college students can be a big reason for current and future heart problems. “Many times, college students resort to cheaper food options due to monetary challenges and these types of foods lack the proper nutrients to maintain good health.” Verry continued, “I think also the increase in energy drink consumption among college students can lead to an increase in cardiovascular health issues now and in the future.”

(Photo courtesy of stvdesign via Adobe Stock)

So how can college students take steps to prevent heart disease in the future? Nurse Nancy advises: “Proper self-care which includes physical, emotional and spiritual well-being improves your quality of life.” Verry and Jones added dieting, eating healthy foods, and physical activity into the mix of ways of preventing heart disease. 

In order to remain heart-healthy, Nurse Nancy says students can always stop by Student Health Services to get their blood pressure checked. Students can also stop by and ask our wonderful nurse questions in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.