Let us get to the Heart of the Matter: Heart Health for African Americans

During Black History Month, we commemorate and celebrate contributions made by African Americans. African American writer and historian, and the “Father of Back History,” Carter G. Woodson proposed and launched Black History Week. First celebrated in 1926, the week expanded to Black History Month in February 1976. It is also American Heart Month. This is a time to bring attention to heart disease, an illness affecting our communities in increasingly alarming numbers.

Heart Disease is the No. 1 killer for all Americans but the risks increase for African Americans. High blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes are the most common factors that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. You can still be at risk, even if you are a yoga-loving, marathon-running, weekend warrior, and fitness fanatic. Factors like high cholesterol, poor eating, and smoking can counterbalance those healthy habits.

According to AHA (American Heart Association), 60% of African American men and 57% of African American women, ages 20 and older have some form of cardiovascular disease or other conditions that can lead to a stroke.

Women, particularly African American Women, are at higher risk for heart disease than any other ethnic group. African American adults are 40 percent more likely to have high blood pressure. The death rate from heart disease is 35 percent higher among African American women than among their white counterparts. While 1 in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies of heart disease.

Living healthy and free of disease makes a critical difference in the quality of life. Learning and becoming more aware about the effects a person’s lifestyle has on their health, especially poor nutrition and inactivity, and removing the obstacles to making healthier choices is critical.

One can modify their lifestyle by quitting smoking, limiting their alcohol consumption, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. It can be as easy as making vegetables the central part of the meal, limiting red meat and consuming more lean meats such as chicken or fish and watching portions on carbohydrate-heavy foods, such as pasta and rice. These small changes can make a difference in maintaining heart health. New research has shown that following a vegan diet or plant-based diet for five weeks may decrease risk factors for heart disease by 19.4%.

While African-Americans are more likely to have diabetes, the disease is preventable and treatable. With diabetes and other heart disease risks, regular exercise plays a vital role in treatment and prevention. It is important to aim for at least 30 minutes of walking daily and 2 to 3 days of strength training. You can also reduce your risk and improve your heart health by managing your blood sugar, cholesterol and controlling your blood pressure.

Heart disease, cancer, and stroke are the leading causes of death for African Americans. During Black History Month while we reflect on our history, let us use this month to commit to a healthier future with better health outcomes. Black History Month can be the time to focus on the importance of living an active and healthy lifestyle to enrich our future and prolong our lives.

-Shera Strange, Contributing Writer

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