American Heart Month raises awareness on health


Anne Virginia Koepp

It is Valentine season once again and hearts can be seen everywhere. However, it is the beating heart in a chest and not the paper heart on a poster that makes the month of February American Heart Month.

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one silent killer of Americans.

“One in three of us suffers from cardiovascular disease, ” said Jen McKeown, director of corporate and media relations for the American Heart Association in eastern South Dakota. “Prominent risk factors of heart disease include high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, too much body fat, consistent physical inactivity, diabetes, smoking and heredity.”

As college students, it becomes easy to forget the risk of heart health with so many other things to worry about like classes, work and relationships.

Jacob Hart, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, said heart health is not something to really worry about at his age if eating healthy and exercise are part of students’ lifestyle.

“College is a perfect time to get into the habit of physical activity and eating healthy. It’s a time of transition so it’s easier for many people to pick up new habits,” said McKeown. “The earlier you start doing what you can to lower your risk, the more good it will do your heart. Cardiovascular disease and defects don’t just afflict the old.”

“A regular exercise program is one of the best investments you can make for your health,” said Dr. Tarek Mahrous, cardiologist from North Central Heart Institute.

Even though winter weather is not ideal, outdoor activities like skating, snow shoveling and cross country skiing all help get the heart pumping and keep it strong.

“I try to exercise pretty much every day,” said Kellie Ellefson, a sophomore health promotions major from Marshall, Minn. “I think heart health is something to worry about but most people don’t.”

Ellie Trautman, the health promotions coordinator at the Wellness Center, said exercising three to five times a week, 30 minutes of continuous aerobic exercise at a time, is beneficial to overall health.

Exercise is an important part of a heart healthy lifestyle, but a balanced diet is just as beneficial.

“Eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and staying away from salty, sugary and fried foods can also benefit your heart health,” said McKeown.

There will be two upcoming activities to learn more about cardiovascular health during Heart Health Month.

On Feb. 26, Avera Health and Vern Eide Motorcars is sponsoring the Go Red for Women Luncheon at the downtown Holiday Inn in Sioux Falls. The fundraising event will feature a wellness lifestyle coach and heart surgery supervisor, as well as other speakers throughout a series of informative classes about cardiovascular disease risks. Funds will help fight heart disease in South Dakota.

For tickets, call (605) 310-8606 or visit

On Feb. 17, SDSU will host its Wellness Fair in the Volstorff Ballroom from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to learn more about keeping a healthy heart, mind and body.

The fair is free for all SDSU students, faculty, staff and Brookings community members. More than 40 businesses and organizations, including HyVee, Papa John’s, Subway and the SDSU Dairy Bar, among others, are donating prizes and offering expertise on numerous health topics.

Trautman said her favorite part of the fair is the energy from the students and exhibitors as they engage in the activities.

For more information call (605) 688-4312.

Even making minor adjustments to a diet and exercise regimen can have positive results on heart health for people of all ages.

“It’s about making small, simple choices,” said McKeown. “Like eating fruit instead of sweets; ?eating vegetables instead of chips or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.”