We need to talk about how heart disease is crippling Black women in America. Every 34 seconds someone in the United States has a heart attack. How many people will suffer this devastating health event in the time it takes you to read this? Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women and every racial ethnicity in American according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart attacks used to be thought of as an ailment of the old, but it strikes people in their 30’s and 40’s. This can largely be attributed to the sedentary lifestyle most of us have become accustomed to. We sit in our cars, at our desks, and after a long day on our couches.
Heart disease may also be thought of as a primarily “White male” disease. But this is not the case. African Americans are among the most impacted. One quarter of African Americans die from heart disease every year. It kills 50,000 Black women a year and 49% over the age of 20 have heart disease. This is partially due to lack of access to adequate health care. The other part of it is not taking our heart health risks seriously. Black women are the most overweight/obese demographic in America not to mention the fastest growing group of type II diabetics who already struggle with hypertension (high blood pressure). On top of this, Black women are also the least likely to exercise on a regular basis. This is the perfect storm for heart disease to take hold and kill.
Given these startling statistics, why are Black women still unlikely to work out? Researchers at Wake Forest University in 2007 surveyed 103 Black women on exercise. The respondents averaged about 75 minutes of exercise per week, more than 25% didn’t exercise at all, and 40% said they avoid exercise due to their hair. Essentially, they recognized the importance of working out but either didn’t do it or did significantly less than recommended because of their hair. This is easily addressed by utilizing hair-friendly workouts or doing it at a time of day when you have more time for your hair. Ladies, are we really willing to die for our hair? The general lack of activity in the Black female community is quite literally killing us!
Why are Black women effected at such a young age? 49% of women over the age of 20 is staggering. There are Black women in college suffering from heart disease. As we age, no matter your activity level, the blood vessels weaken and build up can occur in our arteries. The build up, known as plaque or calcification, blocks blood from flowing freely. When this occurs in the vessels of the heart it’s called coronary artery disease (CAD). When it occurs in our legs it’s called peripheral artery disease (PAD). When we’re in our 20’s our blood vessels are meant to be operating at peak efficiency. There should be very little plaque circulating through our blood stream. When someone is diagnosed in their 20’s with heart disease that is not congenital (from genetics) it is most likely caused by what they are putting in their bodies. Many Black women live in urban areas that are food deserts and/or can’t afford healthy foods. Even if they can get some nourishing food instead of processed chemicals in the shape of food, they often don’t know what a balanced diet entails.
Why are Black women impacted in such high numbers? Lack of proper healthcare and diagnosis may be another factor in these devastating statistics. In the Black community there is a general lack of trust in the medical community. People trust their pastors more than their doctors. If a Black woman can get to a doctor she might not feel heard or may only have 15 minutes with a doctor. Many physicians are quick to prescribe drugs rather than lifestyle change. Some may feel judged by their doctors and just don’t go in.
What can you do to avoid becoming a statistic?
- Understand your risk of developing heart disease, CAD, PAD, stroke and heart attack.
- Find a physician that believes in a comprehensive approach to treatment and reversal of the disease. Dr. Paula Johnson is one such doctor focused on heart disease in women, see what she has to say. Patients have better outcomes if they visit a physician who is similar to them, seek out a Black female physician to help improve your interactions.
- Exercise regularly, the CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. Check with your physician first before engaging in an exercise regimen.
- Eat a balanced healthy diet. No one is saying cut out the foods you love. Do them in moderation and focus on a primary diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals.
- Get regular checkups. A simple blood screening to know your cholesterol levels can cost $25-$70. It’s well worth the cost to catch early warnings of diabetes and heart disease. Blood pressure screenings are free or invest $75-$100 in a home blood pressure testing tool.
- Reduce stress. Yes, much easier said than done, but there is no choice in the matter. Stress releases cortisol in the body. Think of cortisol as acid slowly destroying your system from the inside.
- If you smoke, please just stop. Find a way to stop today. Smoking has far more health implications than heart disease.
- Read about it. The more you know the better you do. Some great resources are Fight The Lady Killer and the American Heart Association.
It’s time to stop heart disease in its tracks. Don’t let it claim another life, especially not yours or that of someone you love. Comment below and share this post with someone you love.
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