Everyone knows that February is Black History Month—a time for honoring and recognizing the contributions, adversities, and amazing triumphs of the many Black Americans that have helped shape our nation. But did you know that February is also American Heart Month, as designated by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute? This year’s theme focuses on the importance of Black Health and Wellness, not only celebrating the legacy and achievements of Black medical professionals, but also shining a spotlight on health disparities in the US.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Americans are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, and to die from heart attacks and stroke at a much younger age, than non-hispanic whites. In fact, cardiovascular diseases kill nearly 50,000 African American women annually and are the leading cause of death for men of diverse racial and ethnic groups in the United States. The Department of Health and Human Services Offices of Minority Health notes that there are several risk factors related to heart disease that are prevalent in minority populations, but thankfully, there are steps we can take to lower these risks.
Step 1: Increase Physical Activity
Physical activity has a lot of benefits, including lowering your resting pulse rate and strengthening your heart muscle. And you don’t need to join a gym or purchase expensive equipment to get a good workout. Simple cardiovascular (also known as “aerobic”) exercises can include brisk walking, bicycling, swimming, dancing, jumping rope, climbing stairs, roller skating, hiking, or playing a sport at a local park, such as basketball or tennis. If the weather prevents you from going outdoors, Medical News Today has a list of 20 exercises you can do at home with minimal to no equipment, including options for every age and skill level. If you are a beginner, start slow and gradually boost your activity as you improve. Remember, the main goal is to safely get your heart pumping on a regular basis. The CDC recommends 150 minutes each week, or 30 minutes of physical activity a day, 5 days a week.
Step 2: Improve Eating Habits
Most Americans eat a heavily processed diet that is high in calories, preservatives, added sugars, and unhealthy fats, and lacking in essential nutrients. Excessive amounts of saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium have been found to raise blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure, which are contributors to heart disease and chronic inflammation. Make every bite count by upping your intake of heart-healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy. The American Heart Association also recommends limiting or cutting out alcoholic beverages. Visit myplate.gov for more information on how to improve eating habits, including helpful tools, resources and recipes.
Step 3: Stop Smoking
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), smoking can harm nearly every part of your body, including your heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular system). The lungs were meant to take in oxygen and deliver it to the heart. In turn, the heart pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Cigars and cigarette smoke, e-cigarettes, and pipe tobacco all contain a large number of toxic chemicals. When inhaled, these chemicals contaminate the blood and permanently damage the heart and blood vessels, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and interferes with vital processes that keep us alive. For tips on quitting smoking and resisting tobacco cravings from The Mayo Clinic, click here.
At The Alliance for Health Equity, our mission is to advance a more equitable, resilient and healthy Greater Coatesville community. Coatesville still struggles disproportionately, in comparison to Chester County as a whole, with health and economic disparities. In fact, 38% of Coatesville residents use public assistance to purchase food, and both the city of Coatesville and West Chester Borough are federally designated food deserts. This means that there are no grocery stores within these municipal boundaries, and without transportation, healthy food options are scarce. Through initiatives like the Food Truck Project, and the delivery of over 10,000 fresh homemade meals to residents through our partnership with Two Fish & Five Loaves, we are addressing the issues that underserved BIPOC and low-income families and seniors are currently facing in our community, including food insecurity, health disparities, economic stability, and access to nutrition education. In addition, we have been funding food-related activities, providing employment opportunities, and promoting healthy living throughout the pandemic, taking a holistic approach to health to advance opportunities available within the community. For more information on The Alliance for Health Equity and to get involved, visit our website.
The Alliance for Health Equity (formerly Brandywine Health Foundation) is a philanthropic organization striving to advance a more equitable, resilient and healthy community for all residents of the Greater Coatesville area. We pursue our mission by providing grants and scholarships to local nonprofits and students that address health and economic disparities and social justice. We also build partnership programs and give voice to those often left out of community solution building to improve the overall health of their communities. 100% of contributions go directly to those in need.