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Keeping the beat going across USF

February 22, 2017


Keep Moving



For today's entry we visited Campus Rec. and spoke with Lindsey Klein, Exercise Science graduate student and Fitness Program Assistant, to learn about ways that exercise can help to keep the heart healthy.



Campus rec treadmills

Top ways to keep a healthy heart?
“I think the main thing for a healthy heart would be to keep moving. A lot of the time, we have full-time positions where we’re stuck at a desk for many hours of the day, so I always make sure I get up one time an hour and make sure to always have a reminder set to get up, or have something scheduled every other hour so that I’m always up and moving. I also work out very frequently; exercise is very important for a healthy heart. Any cardiovascular exercise or resistance training I would recommend doing at least three times a week. Little things such as parking further, taking stairs, it all adds up [to benefit heart health].”


Keeping a routine vs. changing things up have more benefit? 
“I think routines are better. I think routines work well for mostly everyone so you can have that mindset every day to plan out your agenda, when you can work out or when you can exercise, or to just get up and start moving. But, you don’t want to fall into a plan where you get bored, so switching it up every so often, every month or two, is definitely beneficial. The main thing with that is that you’re doing something you like because if it’s something you don’t like, you obviously don’t want to keep doing it.”

- Entry by Ashley Rodrigues



February 20, 2017

Health and Engineering Scientists Create Mobile App for Patients with Heart Failure 

Interprofessional collaborations between health professionals and engineers can help improve patient care.

That’s what’s happening at USF. A nurse scientist and an engineer worked together to develop a smartphone application for patients with heart failure.

HeartMapp, created at USF, is an Android-based application for patients with congestive heart failure (CHF).

Ponrathi Athilingam, PhD, assistant professor at the USF College of Nursing, and Miguel Labrador, PhD, professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the USF College of Engineering, created HeartMapp, an Android-based application to help older adults with congestive heart failure (CHF) improve their self-care and reduce costly hospital readmissions.

“As a cardiology nurse of 25 years, I know that patients with heart failure, who must follow an intricate medication regimen and self-management practices at home to stay healthy and prevent getting admitted to the hospital, struggle with self-care,” Dr. Athilingam said. “After patients leave the hospital, they are alone. However, they do have a phone as a companion. So, we developed this easy-to-use, patient-centered technology to help them keep their heart health on track.”

Ponrathi Athilingam, PhD, assistant professor at the USF College of Nursing, and Miguel Labrador, PhD, professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the USF College of Engineering.

HeartMapp is a non-invasive mobile application that serves as a health coach for patients. The app has six modules allowing patients to assess their heart condition daily, monitor vital signs, perform breathing and walking exercises, take their medication, read educational information on heart health and review statistics in graphs that show their performance. The app also reminds patients every morning to check their weight, blood pressure and answer questions about their symptoms, thinking ability and mood.

“The app puts patients in green, yellow and red zones based on the status of their heart failure symptoms,” Dr. Athilingam said. “The green zone means their symptoms are under control. The red zone means they’re gravely ill and need to immediately go to the hospital. The goal is to identify patients when their symptoms decline to the ‘yellow zone’ to provide appropriate, early treatment and prevent hospital admissions."

HeartMapp, now copyrighted by USF, also provides patients with a web interface to access historical and real-time information about their physical condition using the Microsoft Wrist Band – to help with their physical activity and heart rate.

“HeartMapp is more than just a smartphone application, it’s a mobile information system,” Dr. Labrador said. “Besides the typical application technology, the system has different machines in the background receiving data from sensors and mobile devices, processing it with computer science algorithms and saving it in databases for patients, doctors, nurses and caregivers.”

Heart failure is a serious public health issue in the United States. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than five million people live with the condition. Heart failure occurs when the heart is not able to pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, weight gain, swelling and body weakness.

Supported by grants from the Florida High Tech Corridor and Draper Laboratory, the researchers have published several studies on HeartMapp in Wireless HealthApplied Nursing Research and Computers, Informatics, Nursing.

HeartMapp was also accepted into the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, where researchers spent six months receiving real-world, hands-on experience that could help transition the mobile app out of the laboratory and into a commercially feasible product.

Dr. Athilingam and Dr. Labrador are currently working on a pilot study testing HeartMapp with nine patients from the USF Health Cardiology clinic. The patients, who are participating in the pilot study, find the app useful. A patient, who wishes to remain anonymous, thinks HeartMapp is a great tool that constantly keeps her informed about the state of her health.

“HeartMapp makes me self-aware,” the patient said. “It also allows me to keep track of my symptoms and be attentive of changes - pushing me to take action or check with my doctor regularly.”

Dr. Athilingam and Dr. Labrador are constantly updating HeartMapp with new features based on patients’ feedback. Their goal is to develop an efficient app that helps patients improve their overall health and well-being and reduce expensive hospital readmission rates.

 “We’re hoping to get more funding to test the efficacy of HeartMapp to demonstrate that the app can improve patients’ condition and reduce hospital readmissions penalty fees,” Dr. Athilingam said. “When we show its efficacy, we could then potentially implement the product into cardiology clinics, commercialize it to companies and expand to iPhone and Microsoft operating systems.”

Both researchers are committed to HeartMapp. They will continue to work together as a team to improve the quality of life for patients with heart failure using the power of technology.

“In this day in age, there are difficult problems to solve,” Dr. Labrador said. “These problems need the knowledge and expertise of many different disciplines. If we don’t bring these disciplines together, we won’t be able to solve these complex problems.”

-Story by Vjollca Hysenlika, Video and photos by Sandra C. Roa.


February 15, 2017
Parental Role Modeling Key in Addressing Childhood Obesity, Related Cardiovascular Risks
Dr. Jennifer Bleck, left, and Dr. Marilyn Stern study the influence of parents on their children's exercise and eating habits.

As every parent knows, children are always watching.

That is why, to address obesity in kids, it is critical that parents model healthy behaviors.

The influence of parents on their children’s exercise and eating habits is the basis of research being conducted by University of South Florida child and family studies experts Marilyn Stern, PhD, and Jennifer Bleck, PhD.

“Many parents who are overweight or obese think it’s too late for them. They just want to save their kids,” said Dr. Stern, professor in the Department of Child and Family Studies in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences.

“It doesn’t work that way. A parent who doesn’t exercise and doesn’t eat well can say to the child, ‘eat your broccoli,’ but the child isn’t going to do it unless the parent eats broccoli, too.”

Childhood obesity — one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease and a growing problem in America, where approximately one-third of children and teenagers are overweight or obese — has shown to be inextricably linked to parental obesity. “Predicting Obesity in Young Adulthood from Childhood and Parental Obesity,” published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997, found that, among children ages 3 to 5, the likelihood they would grow into obese adults increased from 24 percent if neither parent was obese to 64 percent if at least one parent was obese.

Those findings were reaffirmed in a 2004 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, “Risk Factors for Childhood Overweight: A Prospective Study from Birth to 9.5 Years,” which identified parental weight as the “most potent risk factor” in childhood weight.

Just as the occurrence of childhood and parental obesity are connected, so too are successful treatments for the conditions.

In 2013, while at Virginia Commonwealth University, Dr. Stern co-authored “Parent Skills Training to Enhance Weight Loss in Overweight Children: Evaluation of NOURISH,” published in the journal Eating Behaviors. The article described the effectiveness of NOURISH, a program that provides parents, and parents only, with information on nutrition, exercise, the importance of mindful eating and family meals, and other topics. A National Institutes of Health-supported study found that children of NOURISH participants experienced significant reductions in their body mass indices, a measure of body fat based on weight in relation to height.

Since then, in work with teens, Latinos, African-Americans, and pediatric cancer survivors, Dr. Stern’s research has come to the same conclusion: Parental support and role modeling is key to children’s weight loss success.

Drs. Stern and Bleck, whose research also looks at the connections between eating disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, are now exploring local applications of weight-loss programs that target children by involving parents.

“Kids can only do so much on their own,” said Dr. Bleck, assistant research professor. “The support and participation of the parents is critical. Parents are the ones who buy the food. They control mealtime routines. They role model eating and activity behaviors.”

For parents interested in making healthy adjustments for both themselves and their children, Drs. Stern and Bleck offered a number of easy, free, everyday ideas:

Drs. Bleck and Stern added that even in families where obesity isn’t a problem, parents should still take care to model healthy habits.

Dr. Bleck said, “It’s about creating in children, early in their lives, a commitment and a motivation to be active and eat the right foods.”

-Story by Rachel Pleasant, Photo by Ryan Noone

February 15, 2017

"Engineers play a central role in heart health..." says Dean Robert Bishop, PhD, P.E, from USF's College of Engineering. 


-Video by Ryan Noone


February 13, 2017

In the Car, In Front of the TV: Prolonged Sitting Increases Cardiovascular Risk

Sitting Increases Cardiovascular Risk 

When it comes to heart health, advice abounds on the benefits of physical activity.

Just as important, but not always as emphasized, said University of South Florida Exercise Science Program Professor Candi Ashley, PhD, is the importance of limiting physical inactivity — all those hours spent sitting at the office, in the car, or on the couch. 

“The new message is that even if you do get the American Heart Association’s recommended 30 minutes a day of exercise, you can’t sit around the rest of the time,” Dr. Ashley said. “You have to get up and move to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.” 

Exercise Science program graduate student Brittany Dutkiewicz uses an electrocardiogram test, or EKG, to show undergraduate student Jaevan Burke how his heart reacts during use of a treadmill. Students in the Exercise Science program study both the benefits of physical activity and the detriments of inactivity on heart health. 

A 2008 article in the journal, Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports, “Too Little Exercise and Too Much Sitting: Inactivity Physiology and the Need for New Recommendations on Sedentary Behavior,” concluded that those who sit for prolonged periods are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other conditions, including diabetes and obesity, even if they also meet daily exercise recommendations.  

“What the research shows is that the negative physiological consequences of sitting are separate from the effects of not getting enough exercise,” said Dr. Ashley, whose students include aspiring strength and conditioning coaches, physical therapists, cardiac rehabilitation specialists, and corporate fitness professionals. 

“It’s important for my students to understand this, so that they will be ready to educate those they encounter in their careers about the importance of limiting time spent sedentary.”

Just how much time does the average person spend sitting or lying down? According to a 2012 review, “Too much sitting — A health hazard,” published in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, as much as 68% of adults’ total waking hours are spent in sedentary positions, be that commuting to and from work, sitting behind a desk, watching TV, or playing video games. 

In a society increasingly geared toward sedentary lifestyles, individuals have to be deliberate about incorporating routine physical activity throughout their day. Dr. Ashley suggested:   

·       Take the stairs instead of the elevator. 

·       Park in the row farthest from the entrance. 

·       Use the bathroom farthest from your desk. 

·       Rather than emailing or calling your colleagues, walk to their desks.  

·       Stand while on telephone calls.

·       Use a stand-up desk. 

“If you can sit instead of lie down, sit. If you can stand instead of sit, stand. Take frequent breaks throughout the day and walk at least 200 steps during those breaks. Anything that increases muscle activation and energy expenditure, do it. It will reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease,” she said.

One of Dr. Ashley’s students is Brittany Dutkiewicz, a first-year graduate student pursuing her Master of Science in Exercise Science, who is planning a career as a cardiac rehabilitation specialist. When she enters the professional world, she said, she will emphasize the impact even short bursts of movement can have on her patients’ health. 

“It’s never too late to exercise,” she said. “A patient can start with 10 minutes a day and it will make a difference.”

-Story by Rachel Pleasant, Photo by Sandra C. Roa


February 9, 2017

USF Health experts: Ten ways to keep your heart healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to American Heart Association (AHA), more than 6 million adults currently live with heart disease. 

The number of people living with the disease is only expected to rise. AHA data shows that, by 2030, more than 8 million people could be diagnosed with heart disease. 

The numbers are alarming. But, taking basic daily steps may help prevent or reduce heart disease and heart attack.

USF Health medical experts on cardiovascular disease weigh in - providing ten things people can do to keep their heart healthy. They suggest to:

Exercise daily 

Vishal Parikh, MD, fellow of the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, says moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes a day can lower the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. 

Quit smoking 

Smoking increases the risk of heart disease and heart attack, says Amy Alman, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the USF College of Public Health. “So, say no to smoking,” says Dr. Alman. 

Maintain a healthy diet 

“A bad diet can put a strain to your heart,” says Ponrathi Athilingam, PhD, assistant professor of cardiology at USF College of Nursing. She suggests considering healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, lean meats, and nuts to help lower the risk of heart disease. She also recommends eating foods with low trans-fat, saturated fat or sodium.

Manage stress

Dr. Parikh says that stress adds strain to the heart. Constant stress causes behaviors that increase heart disease risks including smoking, excessive alcohol, physical inactivity and lack of sleep. So, he says, “It’s important for people to identify triggers andpractice relaxing techniques such as meditation. Something just as simple as laughing may help combat stress.” 

Advanced genomic monitoring/testing

Kevin Sneed, PharmD, dean of the USF College of Pharmacy, said advanced genomic testing and monitoring, which provides an assessment of cardiovascular genes, helps detect any genetic abnormalities early. “This type of technology would provide awareness, and, most of all, give information for a more targeted intervention to prevent future complications,” says Dr. Sneed. 

Maintain a balanced weight 

Excessive weight gain increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, weight gain leads to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. “To keep the body in check, remain physically active and, above all, consume whole foods rather than processed foods,” says Mary Soliman, PharmD, assistant professor at USF College of Pharmacy. 

Get regular exams 

USF Health cardiovascular experts suggest that having regular heart screenings is important – checking the heart rate, blood pressure, body fat and blood sugar. They believe regular screenings keep people informed, which ultimately help prevent heart disease. 

Know family history 

Knowing about the family history is important. Having a relative or family member suffering from heart disease, greatly increases one’s risk. “If you have a family history of heart disease or a personal history of heart health risk factors (smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol), you may just need to be more diligent in monitoring your heart health,” says Gregory M. Gutierrez, PhD, assistant professor at the USF Health School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences. 

Maintain a healthy lifestyle 

Keeping an overall healthy lifestyle is the secret to a healthy heart. USF Health experts all agree that lifestyle is key to lowering the risk of heart disease. Exercising, eating healthy, avoiding smoking and second hand-smoking and managing stress, lead to better heart health. 

What women need to do 

Heart disease causes, symptoms and outcomes may be different in women than in men, says Theresa Beckie, PhD, professor and cardiovascular health researcher at USF College of Nursing and Department of Cardiovascular Sciences in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. “Women represent a particularly high-risk phenotype. So women, especially young women, need to pursue aggressive measures to reduce risks with daily physical activity, a healthy dietary pattern, and stress management,” says Dr. Beckie. 

USF Health’s cardiovascular team of faculty, researchers, doctors, nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists and public health professionals continue to develop top-quality research, education and state-of-the-art clinical care to make life better for patients suffering with heart disease. To learn more, click here.

-Story by Vjollca Hysenlika


February 6, 2017

USF Researcher Examines Psychophysiological Responses to Racism, Sexism and Effects on Heart Health

Kristen Salomon's research shows a strong link between discrimination and cardiovascular risk

Asked to name risk factors for heart disease, most of us would respond with diet, exercise, and family history.

USF social psychologist Kristen Salomon, PhD, is more likely to answer with racism or sexism, because her own research shows a strong connection between discrimination and cardiovascular risk. 

“I primarily study the psychophysiology of stress, and specifically, our cardiovascular responses to stressful situations,” said Salomon, who is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology in the USF College of Arts and Sciences. “Prior research has shown that these responses are predictors of our future risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Kristen Salomon, PhD | Department of Psychology.  

By “stressful situations,” Dr. Salomon refers not just to everyday annoyances — the long commute or unexpected bill — but also to more profound stressors, such as discrimination. 

“We have all experienced the stress that comes with certain performance situations, such as giving a speech or doing math aloud, while others are watching us. Do we sound dumb? Are we doing it right? Those situations really get the heart rate going,” she said. 

“My research expands that to look at the stress that results when we feel we are being treated in a rude or unfair manner, or when someone is saying things to us that could be perceived as racism, sexism, or other forms of discrimination.” 

Dr. Salomon’s 2008 study, “Resting Cardiovascular Levels and Reactivity to Interpersonal Incivility Among Black, Latina/o, and White Individuals: The Moderating Role of Ethnic Discrimination,” published in the peer-reviewed journal Health Psychology, revealed that the relationship between discrimination and cardiovascular risk may differ by ethnicity.

In that study, Salomon asked white, black, and Latino participants to complete a questionnaire. Then, a member of her research team feigned exasperation, telling members of each group they had done the survey incorrectly and would therefore have to complete an interview. 

“The research accomplice, who was white, was very dismissive and rude in order to make the participants feel they didn’t know what they were doing,” Dr. Salomon said. “We used the same procedure for all three groups, the assumption being that the minorities might perceive this treatment as a form of racial discrimination.” 

During their interactions with the research accomplice, Dr. Salomon and her team measured the participants’ heart rate and blood pressure. 

“We found that the white participants were most reactive; they had the biggest increases in heart rate and blood pressure,” she said. “For the Latino participants, their level of reactivity depended on how much discrimination they have experienced in their lives. The more they have experienced, the less reactive they were. The African-Americans didn’t react at all. This tells us that they commonly experience incivility with white individuals, which may have led them to disengage from the situation. They also may have more developed coping mechanisms for responding to instances of discrimination.”

In 2015, Dr. Salomon applied her research to gender relations. In “Flash Fire and Slow Burn: Women’s Cardiovascular Reactivity and Recovery Following Hostile and Benevolent Sexism,” published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Dr. Salomon found that perceived instances of gender discrimination resulted in increased heart rate and blood pressure in female participants. 

Cardiovascular responses varied with the degree of the perceived sexism, Dr. Salomon added. 

Participants recovered quickly after incidents of hostile sexism, created when a member of her team made the statement, “Girls aren’t good at this task anyway, so I’m going to get rid of the hard section.” Meanwhile, participants’ heart rate and blood pressure took longer to return to normal after benevolent forms of sexism, exhibited through the statement, “Girls don’t like the hard section, so I’m going to go ahead and get rid of it for you.” 

“We think that benevolent sexism led the women to rumination,” she said. “Long afterward, they were thinking, ‘Gosh, he didn’t give me the hard section. That was nice but it was also sexist, right?’” Dr. Salomon said. “Recovery from stress also predicts future risk of heart disease.” 

Dr. Salomon is now researching post-stress processes, such as rumination rather than moving on, and the resulting effects on heart health. 

“Our bodies respond to stress for a really good reason, which is to motivate behavior to help deal with that stressor,” she said. “Evolutionarily speaking, when we ran into the bear the woods, our body’s reaction would help us fight or flee the bear. The stress response is there to support some sort of mobilization of energy and effort to deal with the situation or get out of it.”

“Modern-day stressors aren’t bears in the woods. We have to find psychological ways to manage our responses to stress. The accumulation of stress produces wear and tear on our systems.” 

Dr. Salomon and USF School of Social Work Interim Director and Associate Professor Alison Salloum, PhD, are also currently conducting a $1.6-million National Institute of Mental Health study examining children’s physiological responses to therapy after trauma. 

- Story by Rachel Pleasant, Photo by Freddie Coleman


February 3, 2017

Today is the American Heart Association's nationwide "Go Red Day," to help raise awareness of heart disease.
This inspired us to go out and talk to students around campus to find out, "What does heart health mean to you?"




- Videos by Freddie Coleman and Emily Wingate


February 1, 2017


February is all about heart health. It’s American Heart Month and USF will cover it from all angles.  

Led by American Heart Association, the national movement raises awareness about heart disease and educates the public about prevention. The nationwide effort also recognizes Wear Red Day on Feb. 3, which raises awareness about women and heart disease. Then, there is Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14, which is all about…. well, you know, filling your heart with love.

To help celebrate the messages that surround these campaigns, the USF News team will bring you stories about USF faculty, researchers and students who help improve heart health through their work. A series of stories and videos will be posted here throughout the month, showcasing the multiple ways the USF community contributes to the holistic wellness of the heart. 

How does heart health impact how an architect or an artist approaches designing a home? Why is there a difference based on race in how our hearts respond when we experience discrimination? How is nanotechnology and bioengineering defining new hope for combating heart disease? What are the newest ways our USF Bull athletes are training to gain optimum heart performance?

These are just a few of the questions we have posed to faculty, staff and students across the campus. Check back regularly for new posts, and please share what you see on our social media channels to help spread the news about of what’s at the heart of USF.

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