PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Ah, the college years! Usually full of stress, food and no sleep. And that's what might make college students the perfect subjects for a new study about heart health. And, get this, the researchers are college students themselves.

To get a closer look at the study, and to find out what researchers are looking for, they put me to the test. And, boy was it an eye opening experience.

Stepping on a scale in a bathing suit, was no fun, that's for sure, but to get the results was worth it. That was just the beginning of three heart tests the students of GCU ran me through, which can determine what your future health could look like.

It starts with the BOD POD. It's a measurement of how much body weight comes from fat, bone, muscle and organs to provide a highly precise measure of body composition including body fat and volume. The machine is loud, and sounds a little like an MRI test. But, it only takes three minutes, and your results are immediate. "You're at 23.1 percent body fat, so you're in the healthy range for fat percentage," says student Austin Parades, who conducted a portion of the test.

Grand Canyon University partnered with the American College of Sports Medicine to bring this new clinic to campus, called HIP, Health Information and Programming Clinic. Here, they're measuring fitness and heart assessments for the typical college student.

"They're typically not as active, they're not eating as good, they're eating out almost every meal," says Zachary Ziegler, Ph.D. for GCU College of Science, Engineering & Technology in describing what some might view as the average student. "What impact does that have on arterial stiffness, which we know will increase risk of hypertension and heart disease in the future," he adds. "Almost 50 percent of the population are hypertensive, that number isn't that much smaller for the college population."

Test two on the heart screening list evaluates arteries, measures arterial stiffness and can give you an idea of your future cardiovascular risk. Dr. Ziegler says this test can actually predict hypertension, which could lead to high blood pressure, clots, blocked arteries, and stroke.

For this test, you lay on a table with a blood pressure monitor cuff on your upper thigh. Healthy blood vessels are elastic, so this is what they are measuring for as a wand is used on the neck to determine blood flow. The test measures the velocity of the pulse traveling from the carotid to femoral artery. If the pulse travels quickly, it indicates arterial stiffness and the potential for developing hypertension. I came in at the "very healthy" range, which I was pleased to hear.

Finally, on to test three, the VO2-Max Test, the gold standard in aerobic exercise testing and a reliable indicator of heart health. "It takes a measurement every 3 seconds," Parades explains. It gauges how much oxygen your body uses.

For this test, you pedal for a 10 minute bike ride that increases in intensity, while hooked up to an ECG (to monitor heart and blood pressure) and wearing a mask (to measure oxygen consumption). People with higher levels tend to live longer. For me, they were looking for a score of 30. I came in at 34.95. "And that would put you in the excellent category for your age," Parades said.

These tests are free and available to all GCU students with the hope that all incoming freshman, take full advantage to begin healthy habits at a young age. "All this information is neat and dandy but it's not important until you use it for yourself," said Parades. And once you get that base-line, you'll know where you need improvement.

Dr. Ziegler also points out the difference between what he calls "fitness versus fatness" and that weight and size isn't always an indicator of health. And since habits are difficult to change as people age, he says it is important to target people while they're young.

Based on the results a student receives on their cardio assessment, Ziegler and his team of researchers will create a customized program to help improve their cardiovascular health.

"The habits they develop in college will stick with them more than likely," Ziegler said. "And that's both good or bad, and if we can develop good habits throughout these college years, more than likely they'll stick with it through the future."

Students conducting these tests are all undergraduates. And, along with uncovering some interesting findings, this research is giving these students real-world investigative research skills, along with the ability to publish papers, something almost unheard of at the undergraduate level.

GCU’s undergraduate students have already presented their research at major conferences, including the Southwest Region/American College of Sports Medicine conference. Among the findings, that fitness was the most important predictor of cardiovascular outcomes and students who did better on the fitness evaluation had better overall cardiac health.

Jessica Parsons is a segment producer and reporter for Good Morning Arizona.  She has a knack for great storytelling so be sure to watch Good Morning Arizona to catch one of her stories.
 
 


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