Healthy Heart Tips for Valentine's Day

Hanna and Morten Jensen
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Hanna and Morten Jensen

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – February is American Heart Awareness Month, and Valentine’s Day is a great time to take stock of what you are doing for your heart. After all, it beats about 100,000 times a day and circulates one and a half gallons of blood every minute.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and our region has the highest death rate from this disease in the country. The risk of cardiovascular disease is a combination of genetics and lifestyle, so there are many things you can do to keep your heart happy and healthy. Here are some tips from Hanna and Morten Jensen, two members of the biomedical engineering faculty who focus on cardiovascular research at the University of Arkansas College of Engineering.

1. Listen to Your Heart – and Make Sure Your Doctor Does, Too

Prevention is often the best treatment, and awareness of a developing condition can stop heart disease in its tracks. Many conditions, such as high blood pressure, that put a great strain on your heart have symptoms you wouldn’t associate with the heart, or no symptoms at all. “Make sure you get an annual physical that includes an assessment of your blood pressure and weight, as well as your sugar and lipid profile,” said Morten. “If you are treated for a heart condition, ask your doctor if there are any research studies that you can participate in – even if the results of studies do not benefit you directly, their implications may mean that your children and your grandchildren will be better protected, or treated, for heart disease.”

2. Kiss Excess Salt Goodbye

“No matter what age you are, you can train your taste buds to stop craving salt in less than a month,” said Hanna. Reducing your sodium intake is a simple step that can lower your blood pressure, and reduce your risk of heart attack and heart failure. Visit the American Heart Association webpage for more information on how to break free from excess salt:

3. Your body is your temple – think about what you put in it

The Jensens point out that “every meal of the day gives you a chance to say ‘thank you’ to your heart.” Load up on the veggies, fruit and whole grains – and be cautious with excess fat, salt and sugar. Eat healthier for a month and surprise yourself. If you’re up for the challenge, head to:

4. Move it! Outside!

You’ve probably heard the recommendation: 30 minutes of vigorous exercise five times a week. But did you know that studies suggest that people who exercise outside burn more calories, tend to exercise longer and feel happier than their peers who are confined to the gym? “Try a couple of miles on a nature trail,” advises Morten, “and think about the fact that, pumped by the heart, your blood travels a total of 12,000 miles every day, four times the distance across the United States from coast to coast!”

5. Count Pennies

Rather than trying to achieve a perfectly healthy lifestyle with no treats or indulgences, think of your heart health as a piggy bank. Every portion of fruits or veggies gives you a penny in the bank. “Every brisk walk, swim, bicycle trip or a run keeps the pennies trickling in,” explained Hanna. “When you have a nice stash of pennies in the bank, the occasional chocolate cake or serving of fries — stealing pennies from your hard-earned pile — will not destroy your finances. Keep the piggy bank filled up with good heart-deeds, and your investment will grow into a longer, healthier life.”

Hanna and Morten Jensen have more than 20 years combined of academic, clinical and industrial experience in matters of the heart. The Jensens’ research is published in high-level peer reviewed journals such as Nature and Circulation, and some of the results are used today in the FDA guidelines for heart repair devices.

Morten Jensen’s research interests include medical device design and development, and cardiovascular fluid and tissue mechanics. He comes to the U of A as an Arkansas Research Alliance Scholar from the Scandinavian School of Cardiovascular Technology in Denmark, where he was director of research. Hanna Jensen is a medical doctor with clinical surgical experience.

The Jensens will be speaking about heart health at noon on Thursday, February 18, at Mermaids in Fayetteville. This event is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Fayetteville.

For more information about what the Cardiovascular Biomechanics Laboratory is doing to promote awareness of heart disease and what type of research is being done at the U of A to better understand and treat cardiovascular conditions, please contact or

About the College of Engineering: The University of Arkansas College of Engineering is the largest engineering program in the state of Arkansas. Over the past decade, the college has experienced unprecedented growth. Undergraduate enrollment has doubled since 2007, and total enrollment in the college is now over 4,000 students. The College of Engineering offers graduate and undergraduate degrees in nine engineering fields, as well as incorporating distance learning and interdisciplinary programs. Faculty in the college conduct research in many key areas, including electronics, energy, healthcare logistics, nanotechnology, transportation and logistics.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.


Morten Jensen,
Department of Biomedical Engineering

Hanna Jensen,
Department of Biomedical Engineering

Camilla Shumaker,
College of Engineering

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