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Heart of the Matter: What African Americans Need to Know About Cardiovascular Health

John Agwunobi, M.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., Chief Health and Nutrition Officer | Herbalife Nutrition​ | February 20, 2018
February ushers in Black History Month as well as Heart Health Month, and that’s why we’re highlighting the importance of cardiovascular health for African Americans. http://hrbl.me/2EBWo3vClick To Tweet

Heart of the Matter: What African Americans Need to Know About Cardiovascular Health

February ushers in Black History Month as well as Heart Health Month, and that’s why we’re highlighting the importance of cardiovascular health for African Americans. Of course, your health is something you want to think about every day of the year, and here’s why it’s critical to pay attention to ethnicity in terms of wellbeing: Racial, ethnic, genetic, cultural and socioeconomic disparities in health care leave African Americans and other ethnic groups behind the curve when it comes to chronic diseases. For example:

  • The prevalence of high blood pressure in African-Americans is the highest in the world
  • African Americans are disproportionately affected by obesity and diabetes
  • 49% of African-American women over the age of 20 have heart disease, but only 1 in 5 believes she is personally at risk

There’s good news, though, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Though you can’t control your genetics, risk factors for heart disease plummet 82% when you quit smoking and control your diet and exercise. Understanding your risk factors and taking steps to address ones that you can control is key.

 

Talk to Your Doctor

When it comes to our health, knowledge is power. When you know what hereditary diseases affected your family, you’ll have a roadmap to understanding how to better protect yourself. 

Make a standing date for an annual checkup—how about near your birthday, or at the six-month mark? When you’re at the doctor for your physical, you’ll likely have the following checks and lab work performed (and if not, ask for them):

  • Blood pressure: If it’s high, develop a plan for regular monitoring and control. You should have your blood pressure checked at least once every two years.
  • Cholesterol: You’ll look at a few different numbers for good, bad and total cholesterol and their relation to one another. Check beforehand to see if your doctor wants you to fast before the test.
  • Body mass index, or BMI: This is a body-fat measure based on our height and weight. Generally a BMI of 30 or greater is overweight; less than 18.5 is underweight.
  • Glucose: This measurement of blood glucose, or simple sugar, determines diabetes presence or risk. This is a very important test, because early stages of diabetes doesn’t have symptoms.

 

How to Protect Yourself

I’ve had a long career in public health and served as Assistant Secretary of Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. I’m proud to be part of a company that is on the forefront of personalized nutrition. I’ve learned this universal truth: Focusing on making healthy choices every day is the best thing you can do for long-term health. 

Here are some things you can do:

  • Balance your nutrition by eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids and whole fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid sweets and high-fat snacks. Your “healthy” fats (found in olive oil, almonds and avocados) should not exceed 35% of your total daily calories.
  • Make physical activity a part of your day. Aim for 30 minutes of cardio and resistance training a day at least five days a week to get your heart rate up. If that sounds too dramatic, start just by walking outside, down the block, or around your neighborhood.
  • Quit smoking if that’s an issue for you. There are more options than ever to support this difficult transition.

Because we’re all unique individuals with different needs and circumstances, what works for your friend may not be right for you. Work with your doctor to come up with a customized plan that you’ll not only stick to, but also enjoy.