Let’s talk statistics.
- According to a review published by the Mayo Clinic, hypertension affects approximately 85 million Americans – that’s 1 in 3 American adults.
- Hypertension has been found to occur at a higher incidence in Black patients, most notably Black men who suffer at a rate of 59%.
- Black men also experience higher rates of hypertension-associated death caused by uncontrolled blood pressure.
Let’s be honest. Are you going to remember these numbers after you finish reading this? Probably not.
Then, let me tell you a story.
As a former athlete and highly active person, it never crossed my mind that these numbers would be my lived experience. I never thought that I would fall into this category.
Those numbers became very real to me very fast.
When I got to college, health concerns from my doctor put an end to my football career. This change in circumstance, and the mental health struggles that ensued, led to me gaining 170 pounds in just 18 months. Although I felt the change in my body and my ability to move around, I was too afraid and careless to take the time to get checked out. After all, I was 19 years old and still felt invincible. A year later, I was forced to face the facts about my underlying battle with hypertension when a routine exam turned into a scary conversation with my doctor about my blood pressure and the fact that it was entirely too high.
Even with this information, I assumed medication would help regulate my blood pressure and I could carry on as usual with the help of a pill. This wasn’t the case. Between my carelessness and a fear of going to the doctor to receive more bad news, avoiding the problem created a bigger problem. Five years later I got a wake-up call that forced me to pay attention and to make some changes. This time, the conversation wasn’t just about my blood pressure – it was about the health of my heart. I was afraid and met with an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. But even with the hopelessness, I felt determined to try and make a change because the idea of death scared me even more.
This began my journey to take control of my hypertension. Early on I believed all I needed to do was take medication and exercise. In the end, a complete lifestyle change is what ultimately helped me to see greater results. My longtime love of the gym has helped tremendously. But if I’m being honest, I also had to come to the realization that I could not out-work a bad diet. I needed to change what, and how often I ate.
As a kid from Chicago who grew up with pizza as my love language, this was difficult. Over the last five years I’ve started to find a balance and have taken full control of my blood pressure. This has come with trial and error, learning my body and what it needs. It’s been a journey around not just eating for taste but understanding how to eat to live a long healthy life. I will never claim to be perfect in this process. I’m not. But I have learned to choose my future over my feelings.
While studies and statistics show us some harsh truths around hypertension in the Black community, I do believe that we have the power to make change. If I can leave you with any encouragement around things that you can do to help yourself, I’d say this:
- Take the time to start getting active. I am not asking you to become a world-class athlete, but I know that you are capable of a few minutes of intentional movement and physical challenge to your body.
- Be intentional about the things you put into your body – from food to drinks and everything in between. Think about what it would look like for you to choose a better future over the temporary feelings that food may bring you.
- Find a support group that can help you and keep you accountable in these goals. This will keep you on track to a healthier heart.
As you go through this process, please remember that you are not alone and that every day won’t be perfect. Small, consistent baby steps taken over time can, and will, lead to an extended life that you deserve to live.