Carolyn Snively,

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It may not seem like an important issue for many young adults, but our current lifestyles play a significant role in determining our future health.

Heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions. Coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs when plaque made of cholesterol builds up in the arteries. Over time, this leads to atherosclerosis, the narrowing of the arteries which blocks blood flow to the heart. CAD can lead to chest pain, heart failure, irregular heartbeats and heart attacks.

According to the CDC, America’s current sedentary lifestyle is the greatest contributing factor to heart disease. For the majority, driving is the primary mode of transportation and social networking is the hobby of choice. Between the Internet and video games, we are connected to technology now more than ever, and who wouldn’t rather shop online than drive to the mall?

As we age, we acquire more and more responsibility, which sometimes means less time and/or desire to be active. As college students, we devote our entire day to class and studying and the last thing we want to do is expend even more energy at the gym. What’s worse is that, if we choose, we are only going to be faced with more responsibility after college — jobs, marriage, children and houses. These responsibilities equal time that doesn’t always include physical activity.

The American diet leads to obesity just as much as inactivity does. Our on-the-go lifestyles cause us look for the most convenient ways to eat. Whether we choose to eat fast food on our way home from work or processed snacks during class, convenience seems to take precedence over nutrition.

According to Dr. Terry Mason, Chief Medical Officer at Cook County Hospitals in Chicago, “We’ve eaten ourselves into a problem, and we can eat ourselves out of it.” If convenience is your priority, grab a granola bar on your way to class instead of a candy bar, or a bag of pretzels over chips. Simple, healthy changes to your diet will add up over time.

With today’s treatments like bypasses and stints, we find it even easier to put our health on the back burner. These “treatments” may prolong one’s life, but they don’t actually treat the causes of heart disease. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. from the Cleveland Clinic developed a “heart attack proof” diet that has been shown to prevent heart disease. Esselstyn’s goal was to develop an alternative to pills and operations, and his diet of no meat, no eggs, no dairy and no added oils has done just that. He also educated his patients on how to lead a healthy lifestyle, which addresses another major issue.

Many people are uneducated about preventable diseases like heart disease. Informing people on the negative effects of such diseases that will occur from a sedentary lifestyle could deter them from making poor health decisions. Everyone knows they should eat fruits and vegetables, but many people don’t know why, and what positive effects they have on our health. Understanding the importance of good health behaviors is a crucial preventive measure because prevention is always cheaper than treatment.

Heart disease is progressive, so it’s vital that we become conscious of our health behaviors at a young age. It’s ultimately up to each individual to make lifestyle changes to improve his or her health. We think we don’t have time to lead active, healthy lifestyles, but it’s up to us to make time. Taking 20 minutes each day to make one healthy meal or 30 minutes swimming laps at the gym can spare us the pain of paying thousands of dollars in future medical bills.

The easiest ways to start today: gossip with your roommate on a run instead of Facebook Chat or pick up ‘hotties’ at the Rec instead of Brick Street Bar and Grill while binge drinking.