Three years ago, I celebrated my thirtieth birthday. I also celebrated the fact that I would have to start viewing life, and the choices I made very differently. A series of unbearable headaches, a serious loss of energy, and a routine blood pressure reading had determined that I had hypertension. My physician informed me that I was going to have to change my relationship with diet and exercise, and reevaluate what was best for my heart. What was best for my heart? I felt too young to be hearing this, but it was a reality. For thirty years, I had taken this for granted.
One in three African-Americans has hypertension. Also referred to as high blood pressure, hypertension isn’t something that pronounces itself with bells and whistles. It is deemed the “silent killer” for good reason, and can have you avoiding exercise or continuing a diet of peril as if absolutely nothing is wrong. I was afraid I had fallen into that category, thinking that my lifestyle and my age made me indomitable against any ailments. My entire perception shifted. I started reading the back of labels, incorporating more exercise into my routine and began taking blood pressure medication that I hoped I would not be on for the rest of my life.
I am a minority. I am an African-American female that could easily be one of the 2,341 women that die every year from hypertension. My experience is not so different then what millions of minorities around the country deal with. Understanding how your heart works, taking the right precautions to prevent heart disease, and living a healthier lifestyle are all essential. African-American men and women are at a higher risk for certain health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. Although genetics and family history play an important role in the outcome of our health, as minorities we can still take measures to keep the risk down and live a preventative lifestyle.
Dr. Alexis Thomas, a physician based in Kansas City, Missouri, suggests that minorities concerned with heart disease embrace a few routine practices. It should come as no surprise that her first suggestion is to have a regular exercise regimen. Exercise can act as a conditioner for your heart, helps improve circulation and the levels of HDL (good cholesterol) in your body.
Thomas also suggests a low fat, low cholesterol diet. This assists in maintaining a healthy body weight. Because the heart tends to be the center of our body’s universe, a healthy weight can keep the heart clear from stroke and heart attack. Dr. Thomas encourages incorporating a supplement, such as an omega three fish oil.
Making changes to ensure your heart health does not have to mean giving up everything that you love. It is about being more conscious and making conscious efforts. Even something as routine as your semi-annual trips to the dentist can ward you away from the effects of heart disease. Dr. James L. McCreary, D. D. S provided some insight on the matter. “People may not initially realize the connection between heart health and dental health, but all systems of the body are working together.”
Dr. McCreary went on to explain that neglecting your dental health can often lead to periodontal or gum disease. When infection invades the mouth, it can spread when it is not treated. Infections are known to spread to vital organs, which could directly or indirectly affect the heart.
Taking care of your heart does not have to interrupt the life you already have. It can be as simple as letting go of a few habits, and replacing them with new practices. I try to consider every change I make, not a negative obstacle that represents something I have to give up. My effort goes into looking at the changes as opening up new doors. Health does not have to be a burden. It is the disease, the diagnosis that troubles us.
The measures we take to prevent those from happening are nothing but enjoyable, nothing but simplistically gratifying, and nothing but necessary.