February is the month we bring awareness to both Black History and American Heart health. I’m a Black health and wellness educator, so as you might imagine, both topics are near and dear to my heart! Black history month honors Black Americans’ many achievements throughout U.S. history. It’s celebrated in many ways, but culturally traditional foods are often a highlight…and a delicious one at that! In my southern Black family, Sunday dinner or just getting together with family we hadn’t seen in a few weeks is a cause to celebrate with food! Although delicious, many of our dishes, or ways of cooking, are not so healthy for your heart. Did you know Black Americans are 30% more likely to die from heart disease? It’s true…and now American Heart Health has entered the chat!
Heart disease is the leading killer in the United States, so raising awareness is critical, especially amongst the Black population. Not only is the death rate higher, but Black women in 2018 were 60% more likely to have high blood pressure, and Black adults diagnosed with high blood pressure are 40% less likely to have it under control. (Source: CDC 2021. Summary Health Statistics: National Health Interview Survey: 2018. Table A-1a.)
The good news is we still have some control. The journey to change lifestyle habits is not easy but it is worth it. Small changes in your diet and physical activity over time can make huge impacts on your quality of life. Balance is the key; it’s perfectly fine to enjoy favorite foods on occasion or in smaller portions. Most of the time, adding less sugar or fat to those favorite foods isn’t that noticeable. Incorporate family game time that involves being physically active before or after the family gathering. The CDC recommends adults be active for at least 150 minutes each week. If this sounds like a lot, don’t let it overwhelm you. That time can be done in smaller increments, into what works best for your schedule. Got a 15-minute break at work? Encourage friends to go for a walk.
For Black History month this year, I choose to celebrate the heroes of the medical community that have made huge contributions toward the progressive nature of medical science. Those like Dr. Charles Drew, who is most notable for breaking barriers and pioneering methods for storing blood plasma for transfusions, or Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, who performed the first successful open-heart surgery. Mrs. Eliza Mahoney was the first professional Black nurse and proved to be instrumental in the push to educate Black women to become nurses. Lastly Dr. Alexa Irene Canady who became the first Black neurosurgeon in the United States.
We celebrate not only these heroes but the heroes in our own communities who raise awareness and advocate for better health for all.