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How young people can be more aware of their heart health

California Baptist University expands its online programs, providing Riversiders with quality education tailored to their schedules and aspirations.

CBU's College of Health Sciences includes classes that educate students about cardiovascular risk factors and behavioral changes.

February is the month of love – and fittingly American Heart Month. As heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the United States since 1950, the CDC encourages everyone to focus on their cardiovascular health during February.

A surprisingly at-risk group: college students.

While most Americans assume that heart health is a concern in older adults, typically ages 45 and above, the American College of Cardiology reports that the rate of young people experiencing a heart attack has been increasing by 2% each year for 10 years.

So, what are these risks exactly? For most young people, common risk factors can include family history, smoking, diabetes, obesity, hypertension and a sedentary lifestyle. When students enter college, the freedom, food, and rigorous coursework can aggravate these variable risks.

Youth who have cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes, are more likely to have these risk factors as adults, putting them at greater risk for heart disease and stroke. Aside from hereditary cardiovascular issues, physical activity and a healthy diet can dramatically mitigate these risks.

At California Baptist University (CBU), a healthy lifestyle is not only encouraged but also accessible. A state-of-the-art recreation center allows students to attend fitness classes, strength train and pick up a game with friends. The award-winning Alumni Dining Commons offers a rotating menu to regularly feature healthy meals and all kinds of options for students and their health needs.

“We have a saying: ‘Exercise is medicine,’” says Dr. Trevor Gillum, professor of kinesiology and program director of exercise science at CBU. “There are scores of data demonstrating that a single bout of exercise lowers blood pressure and regulates blood glucose in the hours following the exercise bout. Few people who regularly engage in meaningful exercise throughout their life will develop diabetes.”

While exercise is important to keeping a healthy heart, there are other potential dangers found in even the most active group of youth: athletes. At some colleges and professional level sports teams, athletes are required to get an electrocardiogram (EKG) before practices or games. This type of monitoring detects potential heart issues and general health within patients. However, at the high school and college level, these EKG screenings aren’t so common. CBU is actively working to incorporate more screening and testing methods for the athletes that represent the Lancers.

Dr. Jong-Kyung Kim, professor of cardiovascular physiology at CBU, includes practical application into his coursework in the exercise science department. As part of CBU’s efforts to serve the community of Riverside and beyond, Dr. Kim recently took one group of CBU graduate students to Martin Luther King High School to screen 50 baseball players. Using an EKG monitoring tool, the students tested the athletes’ resting heart rate, as well as the heart rate after exercising. If anything were to appear abnormal, the athletes would be given a recommendation to see a medical doctor.

“Hypertension is a high-risk factor and can often go undetected, especially in athletes,” says Dr. Kim. “By monitoring these heart rates, we can analyze how fast the heart recovers after exercise and teach others to be more aware of these risks.”

In order to improve heart health, the bottom line for people of all ages is to make better choices –walking instead of driving, choosing healthier meal options and getting the sleep your body needs. These are all habits that CBU professors work to instill in their students.

CBU offers robust programs in the health science, kinesiology and nursing fields to not only educate students on assessing cardiovascular risk in their professional careers but also implement effective techniques to perform these assessments in the here and now. To learn more about CBU’s programs, visit