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Sunday May 22nd

Here are some ways to improve heart health, according to UNC students and professors

<p>A new study released by the Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders journal has found that only 12.2% of adults are at optimal metabolic health.</p>
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A new study released by the Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders journal has found that only 12.2% of adults are at optimal metabolic health.

The American Heart Association released its Heart Disesase and Stroke Statistics 2019 Update on Jan. 31, which said nearly half of Americans have a cardiovascular disease. 

These new statistics align with data found in research from Professor of Medicine and Director of the Program on Health and Clinical Informatics, Samuel Cykert, who has developed a project to combat cardiovascular risk in North Carolina.

Forty-eight percent of Americans have some kind of cardiovascular disease, which includes coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke and high blood pressure. The high percentage was partly caused by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology hypertension changing the definition of high blood pressure from 140/90 mm Hg to 130/80 mm Hg. However, the Association still warns that the overall heart health of Americans is still decreasing, paralleling Cykert's findings.

Cykert developed Heart Health Now!, a project that combats cardiovascular disease in North Carolina by teaching small primary care practices to assess their patient’s cardiovascular risk using data.

“We were able to extract data from their electronic health records to assign risk to all their patients between ages 40 and 79 with something called the ASCVD risk score,” Cykert said. 

Cykert said they were able to rank patients in the practice from highest risk to lowest risk and list the methods of rapidly reducing risk next to each patient on a dashboard.

Cykert’s team recommended no tobacco use, blood pressure control, exercise and varied versions of the Mediterranean Diet, which emphasizes eating primarily plant-based foods, for all patients. 

“Communities, schools and public health, in addition to medical practices should push on stopping tobacco use, the (Mediterranean diet) and physical activity as a way to live,” Cykert said.

The American Heart Association’s report said some of the most significant improvements in risk reduction are declining U.S. smoking rates and increasing U.S. exercise rates. 

Some student organizations are following Cykert’s advice. They push heart-healthy habits before unhealthy habits have much time to take hold, teaching children how to take care of their hearts. 

Since coming to UNC, sophomore Sydney Thuman has been a Girls on the Run coach, where she teaches elementary school-aged girls confidence and healthy living through after school running practices. 

“When we did a unit on the food pyramid, we had the food groups separated into corners of the field where we were working out,” Thuman said. “I would call out a food and then the girls would run to the area of the field that the food group was in.”

Thuman said during the nutrition lessons, the Girls on the Run coaches taught the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new MyPlate guidelines. MyPlate replaced the traditional food pyramid, which was first introduced in the early 1990s and encouraged eating a lot of grains. MyPlate suggests equal amounts of grains and vegetables, which is more in line with the Mediterranean diet Cykert described.

Junior Jeet Galani is the president and founder of Happy Kids, Healthy Kids, a club that travels to elementary schools to host an after-school program with a nutrition session followed by an exercise session.  

Club members plan interactive activities and bring UNC athletes to talk to the children. Galani said teaching children about exercise and healthy eating go hand in hand in fighting the childhood obesity epidemic.

Galani said they always stress the underlying reason to be healthy and active in our lesson plans.

"Among the multiple disorders caused by obesity, heart disease is one of them," Galani said.  

Both Cykert and the American Heart Association are continuing to express concern over the heart health of Americans, which has continued to decrease in spite of warnings about the dangers of poor diet, little exercise and tobacco use.


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