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Food, fitness, and fun: Employees learn about heart health during campus health fairs

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Clinical Nutrition students, along with Susan Rodder, Assistant Professor of Clinical Nutrition (right) prep, dish, and discuss heart-healthy food samples.

Fridays are always welcomed with open arms, but Feb. 1 and Feb. 15 made hearts race from excitement at UT Southwestern.

American Heart Month at UT Southwestern kicked off Feb. 1 at the Bass Center with one of two Heart Month Health Fairs, and featured good eats, blood pressure and BMI screenings, and other heart health activities and information. There was even a little mindfulness meditation.

“We love the enthusiasm from all of the UTSW employees who participate in the fairs,” said Dr. Amit Khera, Professor of Internal Medicine and Director of UTSW’s Preventive Cardiology Program. “People come because they want to improve their health. We hope we can give them the tools to head in the right direction.”

People got moving at both fairs (the second was held Feb. 15 on South Campus), beginning even before the events officially started, when the Benefits and Wellness team offered swag to those who completed a 10-minute walk.

As part of the official health fair program, a group of nurses were on hand to facilitate a fitness assessment called the Rockport Walking Test. Fairgoers who signed up completed a one-mile walk around the fair area.

“Cardiac activity strengthens the heart,” said Adam Schroeder, a nursing student at Texas Woman’s University.

After the walk, participants had their heart rate checked against their age, gender, and weight, to see whether their heart performance was excellent, fair, or poor.

Employees also received recipes and huddled around heart-healthy food samples, such as zesty tomato and lentil soup, and pesto caprese zucchini noodle salad.

“Preparing great-tasting and good-for-you foods is an important way to convince employees that the two are not exclusive,” said Susan Rodder, Assistant Professor of Clinical Nutrition and an architect of the health fairs.

UT Southwestern students also took an active role in both events.

“We’re showing people foods that are rich in good fats, low in sodium, and good sources of fiber,” said Mariana Pardo, a Clinical Nutrition student in the School of Health Professions. “There are many heart-healthy food options to consider as alternatives to what is typically consumed.”

Both fairs featured tables manned by UTSW experts in preventive cardiology, including Dr. Khera, Dr. Parag Joshi, Dr. Anand Rohatgi, and Dr. Alana Lewis. They dispensed advice and educated fairgoers on strategies for living heart-healthy lifestyles.

Sponsored by the UTSW Preventive Cardiology Program, the event also offered giveaways and provided some nontraditional approaches to increase heart health, such as a mindfulness meditation station.

“A regular meditation practice can help minimize stress, and anything that reduces stress reduces the risk for heart attack and stroke,” said Bryan Elwood, a UTSW clinical research coordinator on hand to educate participants about mindfulness meditation.

Though the free food and goodies were certainly a draw, the motivation to commit to a fit lifestyle beyond a New Year’s resolution was profound for some.

“This year I made a dedication to myself to eat healthier and exercise more,” said Demetria Wilson, an employee in the Department of Internal Medicine. “These are things that I don’t like doing, but I’m not getting any younger and must take control of my health.”

Visit MyUTSW for upcoming Heart Month activities, including a chance to win breakfast tacos delivered by Dr. John Warner, Executive Vice President for Health System Affairs.

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