There is a silent killer that lurks among even the most proactive women of color that they may not even know exists. This particular villain is elusive and does not often shows signs of danger to it's victim, but has successfully become the #1 killer of black women in the US.
Sugar, salt, and stress are some examples of the near-fatal weapons that have been historically held in the arsenal of black women. It may come as a surprise, but such factors have resulted in an alarming percentage of our population being affected by heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, 49% of black women in our country over the age of 20 have some form of heart disease, which can ultimately lead to a stroke or heart attack.
High blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, high blood cholesterol, lack of physical activity, a family history of heart disease, and obesity are some of the major risk factors that lead up to heart disease, which kills nearly 50,000 black women in the US every year. The American Heart Association also revealed that only 36% percent of black women know that heart disease is the #1 risk of death for our demographic, and only 1 in 5 black women feels personally at risk.
You read that right. There is an unmasked assailant that's responsible for killing more than 50,000 black women every year, but less than ¼ of us are even aware.
Traditionally, black families have existed under a matriarchy for the most part, leaving black women to develop a superwoman complex. We must be sisters, mothers, daughters, lovers, and friends, and sometimes we forget to take care of the person who takes care of everyone else. This blatant neglect of self-care can contribute to poor diet and high stress.
Black women have a higher risk of heart disease than any other demographic. Stress, diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol are all risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease and are regular parts of a black girl's reality. Even women who are healthy may be at risk due to their family history..
We are more likely to die at an earlier age when compared to women of any other ethnicity.
This epidemic demands a response, so we have to make a choice. We can continue to let this unmasked villain steal the lives of our sisters, mothers, friends, and daughters, or we can choose knowledge. Organizations like the American Heart Association are on a mission to make the choice easier for black women. The organization is dedicated to raising money to fund life-saving science and provide resources to those seeking to live their best lives.
After doing some research, here are three ways we as black women can slay the boogie man that is cardiovascular disease, and proceed in slaying the day with a healthy heart:
Walk It Like You Talk It
You're a busy woman with a lot of stuff on your plate, I get it. But you can't continue to fill from an empty cup. Set out at least 20 minutes a day for physical wellness to lower your stress levels and decrease your chances of heart disease. Something as simple as a half-hour walk or choosing the stairs instead of the elevator can help reduce your chances of a heart attack or stroke.
Get Enough Sleep
We live in an era that suggests not going to sleep will make you rich, and this ideology is just not true. The American Heart Association suggests that you get 7-8 hours of sleep per day to improve your cardiovascular health and maintain a healthy weight. A study done by the American Heart Association in 2011 showed that poor sleep quality resulted in high blood pressure levels and proved that people who do not sleep enough can have poor metabolism and experience weight gain.
Eat To Live
Salt and sugar are the perfectly delicious combo that can be harmful to our health at higher than recommended levels, but in which we indulge without remorse. Genetic predisposition in the form of a heredity history of heart disease tend to make black women more susceptible than other demographics to high blood pressure and strokes. Part of reversing the epidemic that cardiovascular disease created means unlearning some of our unhealthy relationships toward food. Hypertension, diabetes, and obesity are all risk factors for heart disease and disproportionately affect black women, mainly due to our diets. Cut back on the salt and sugar to help improve your overall physical wellness, and even add a squash a day and other fresh vegetables to help add to a healthy diet..
Hug It Out
I'm not a huge fan of physical affection, but if it means better health, I'm here for it. Studies show that hugging can reduce blood pressure among some women, so grab a beautiful woman and hug her today, you might just be helping her health!
Millennial women have access to so much knowledge in the 21st century, so it makes no sense that a disease that is so preventable is wiping us out. We've worked to overcome depression, oppression, and every other foe that we've encountered under the sun, and so we cannot let heart disease win the battle. Even if it means coming face-to-face and being in opposition with our own self-sabotage.
The weapons of choice in my arsenal include a little bit of sugar, salt, and stress, but mostly importantly, for years I was a smoker. As a woman who's smoked tobacco, and the daughter of a mother who smoked tobacco, and the granddaughter of a woman who also smoked tobacco, I was aware that I had been blissfully existing and sabotaging my own physical health.
I read the warning on the side of the cigarette pack, but I didn't pay it any mind. I would repeat my mom's age old mantra: Really, everything gives you cancer. Or something's gonna kill you eventually anyway. I ain't scared of no mf Surgeon General.
This attitude is one that has helped develop the notoriety of the unmasked killer that is cardiovascular disease, and the only way to remedy the epidemic is to spread knowledge. Cancer doesn't have anything on heart disease, a fact that had been pretty much elusive to me until I had written this article. When I think about my mother and best friend, or my sister and my aunt, I understand that this epidemic may one day affect one or all of us if we are not more mindful of our physical wellness.
Thanks to technology there is a multitude of information and resources that allow women to take a front seat when it comes to their heart health and quality of life. You may not be able to control your genetic predisposition, but you can take control of your diet, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Get that heart pumping, girl.
To get free resources on heart disease, stroke and the early warning signs, and to learn more about how to improve your heart health, click here.
This post is in collaboration with The American Heart Association, but all opinions are my own.