Natalie Szakun graduated from Trinity Western University (TWU) with a major in kinesiology and a minor in chemistry, and a keen interest in healthcare for adult and elderly women.
Szakun, who is among the recipients of this year’s TWU undergraduate research awards, is working alongside her faculty supervisor, Dr. Anita Coté, a cardiovascular physiologist, to study how exercise affects the heart in health and disease in older women.
Szakun has been part of Dr. Coté’s ongoing project with the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging, measuring the effects of physical activity as a mitigating factor of cardiovascular disease.
“Women’s heart health is often unnoticed, and definitely understudied,” Szakun explained.
“Although very minimal, I hope my research under Dr. Anita Coté’s wing will help future generations of Canadian women have healthier hearts and happier lives.”
Through this work, Szakun noticed a gap in Canadian healthcare when it comes to care for adult women. “I realized how overlooked and under-represented this population is,” Szakun said.
Women make up over half of Canada’s aging population. Despite this, longitudinal studies on the specific cardiovascular disease risk factors associated with the menopausal transition are scarce, Szakun explains.
In response, Szakun and Dr. Coté hope to establish potential cardioprotective risk factor data for this specific high-risk population.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women worldwide, Szakun explains. It is thought that the increased prevalence is due to how symptoms of cardiovascular disease are often not recognized in women, leading to low diagnosis and treatment rates.
“But this accounts for only part of the story,” Szakun says.
“A larger contributor is not recognizing and addressing the cardiovascular disease risk factors that women silently carry, often for decades,” she continued.
The delays in diagnosis, which can lead to less accurate prognosis in women, places women at a significant health disadvantage, she elaborated.
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