Associate professor Kwakituli Dreher

Associate professor Kwakituli Dreher teaches a Zumba class for Love Your Heart Week at the Nebraska East Union on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln organizations have come together for the initiative “Love Your Heart Week” to raise awareness about heart health — especially among at-risk students. 

The goal of the initiative is to teach students about habits that can affect heart health through engaging and educational activities. The events began Monday and will end Friday. According to University Health Center Marketing Strategist Aimee Grindstaff, the week has been a joint effort between the University Health Center and the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services. 

Additionally, the Multicultural Greek Council and the Minority Pre-Health Association partnered for the event, and UHC nurse practitioner Terry Thomas specifically said the event is beneficial to people of color, as they can be more at risk for heart problems.

The events that have taken place so far have been the “Know Your Numbers Workshop” on Monday, Free Breakfast and Wellness Profiles on Tuesday and a Zumba Class on Wednesday. On Thursday there will be a Chicken Fajitas Nutrition Class, and a come-and-go booth event will take place on Friday.

Thomas said she wants students to gain a basic understanding of the risks pertaining to heart health.

“It’s just raising awareness of what your risk is and how you can live healthy to prevent one day having a heart attack or heart disease or having high blood pressure,” she said.

Thomas said the week is designed to be proactive and educational. On Tuesday, students had the opportunity to draw blood, resulting in a wellness profile containing stats that could provide insight into heart health.

Thomas said the profile is part of being proactive because it draws attention to potential health issues.

“Young people are right to learn a lot of healthy knowledge and healthy activities so that, going forward, they can take better care of themselves,” she said. “Hopefully, they can prevent some of this stuff, like obesity and hardening of the arteries and high cholesterol and heart disease.”

So far, many of the week’s participants have come from the Minority Pre-Health Association, according to adviser Marianna Burks. She said this week has been an important tool for those students.

“We want our minority students to know what they have access to now as a student,” Burks said. “So that in their later years and later in life, they can be aware of their demographic in terms of their own blood panel, and also how that can start the process of actually having a healthy heart.”

According to Thomas, certain races and ethnic groups can have higher incidences of diabetes, high blood pressure and other heart-related issues. Burks said many people are unaware of these risks, so it’s important they do what they can to learn more.

“If we didn't actually initiate this week long event, we would have no students that knew about their access to this,” she said. “Because some demographics are actually more susceptible to these problems, we want them to know about it.”

Burks said she believes access to health information is something made possible by the week’s events, as being informed is the first step to a healthy lifestyle. 

“They won't go and seek this formative information on their own,” she said. “So, again, providing that opportunity for those students to actually have access to that information readily and engaging the information for those students was the biggest outcome.”