American Heart Month focuses on taking care of the heart   

Riverside, Calif. (Feb. 23, 2024) – February is American Heart Month, a time to focus on overall cardiovascular wellness.

People at any age can take preventative measures to ensure their hearts are working to best benefit their bodies every day.

We spoke with three faculty at California Baptist University about why heart health matters: Dr. Jong-Kyung Kim, professor of exercise science, Dr. Trevor Gillum, program director of exercise science, and Dr. Melissa Wigginton, professor of health science.

Kim, who specializes in cardiovascular physiology, teaches classes such as Clinical Exercise Physiology (KIN536), Electrocardiography in Clinical Exercise (KIN586) and Research Methods (KIN570). Many of his students are interested in working in a cardiopulmonary rehab program to care for cardiac patients.  

Gillum is a certified exercise physiologist who teaches Exercise Physiology (KIN383), Nutrition Science (KIN300) and Applied Exercise Physiology (KIN393). The nutrition class looks at lifestyle intervention. Most students are not concerned with their own cardiovascular health, but a few are aware because of family members or they already have risk factors themselves, he said.

Wigginton, a certified health education specialist, teaches Health Communication (HSC300), Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HSC 516) and Introduction to Public Health (HSC101). She tells students that the risk for chronic disease starts as young as childhood, but children and young adults view themselves as invincible.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What are some habits we can incorporate into our daily routines for heart health?

Kim: We need to be more active. Most of our students take the shuttle bus between the health science campus and the main campus. I know it is very difficult to change the lifestyle, but I tell students they can walk between the two campuses. I know exercise is boring, but they don't have to go to the gym. Use the stairs, not the elevator. This again is a lifestyle change.

Gillum: Be mindful of the food that we consume, of sleep and stress. There's data that show exercise overcomes even poor lifestyle habits. We can't undo everything. But if you look for the biggest hammer that you have, exercise is it. To move the needle on cardiac health, we need to move with high intensity and frequently.

Wigginton: Most people don't really think, “what I do today is going to impact me in 10 or 15 years,” but it absolutely does, especially because it can take years for heart disease to develop. Stress alone can be a significant risk factor for heart disease. Low levels of sleep are also tied to heart disease. All these behaviors one might view as harmless when you're young could actually be setting you up for a huge risk in the long run.

I also try to make people aware of what they're eating. If you're sedentary, your basic caloric consumption for the day should be 1,200 to 1,500 calories. Most people eat more than 2,000 calories per day. Those calories add up, which can lead to obesity and overweight. Both of which are also risk factors for heart disease. It’s about teaching people portion control, understanding calories in versus calories out.

Why is it important to maintain a healthy heart?

Kim: Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer. The American Heart Association and the government put a lot of money toward heart disease prevention and treatment. We have to prevent cardiovascular disease to save more people. Even the young die of heart attacks and coronary heart disease. 

Gillum: A 1600s physician said, “Man is as old as his arteries.” He was convinced our cardiovascular health really dictates how old we are, how close to death we are.

The beauty of capturing students in these years is that they are formative. There are some interesting studies that have tracked people and have shown that if you are ever really fit at one point in your life, that sort of helps you tread water through some decades. For older individuals or middle-aged folks, it is just trying to carve out the time. Try to eat the right things, get to sleep on time, do the right physical activity. Because the truth is, it's never too late.

Wigginton: I always tell students and clients, it took you years to develop this disease, it's not going to be reversed or treated overnight. People want fast fixes, they want to be better tomorrow, or want to lose 20 pounds by next month. If it took you years to gain that weight, you're not going to lose it overnight.

I think people are also overly confident that modern-day medicine can save them, so they aren’t as concerned with preventive care. There's this belief that “if I have a heart attack or stroke, then I'll call 911 and they'll rush me to the hospital, and I will be fine.” I don’t think most people realize heart attacks and strokes are happening younger and younger. And it’s more important that we prevent them from happening than hope we can get to the emergency department fast enough. Heart health is important for longevity and overall health and well-being, at all ages. 

Contact CBU Marketing and Communication

Vice President for Marketing and Communication:
Angela Meluski

8432 Magnolia Avenue
Riverside, CA 92504