6 Ways to Avoid Hypertension and Heart Disease: A Minority Health Alert

Hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease continue to be more problematic, and more deadly, in our minority communities.

Although great strides have been made to heal the health disparities among minority groups, there is still much work to do. Work that has more support than ever, thanks to the 30-year-old publication that first shed light on this serious issue: Margaret Heckler’s Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Heckler Report, as it is now known, highlighted the alarming health disparities between minorities and non-Hispanic whites, while igniting proactive change in the U.S. healthcare system.

Although the Heckler Report hugely benefited minority health equity, and continues to do so, the sad truth is that African Americans remain 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites.

That’s why Erlanger is doing its best to raise awareness of hypertension and other conditions that disproportionately affect minorities by offering free classes at both Erlanger Community Health Centers. Erlanger wants to spread the word that everyone has the power to reclaim their health and slash their risk of hypertension and heart disease.

Change isn’t easy. But if the following 6 healthy behaviors are slowly introduced while unhealthy behaviors are eliminated, you can better protect yourself against hypertension and heart disease:

1. Control cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.When was your last physical? If it’s been a while, schedule an appointment at one of our Community Health Centers Why? Because high cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar don’t necessarily have symptoms, and all can lead to heart disease, or conditions that cause heart disease, if left untreated. It’s important to have these levels checked and monitored by your doctor. He or she may recommend medications to help lower these levels, along with adopting a healthy lifestyle.

2. Eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet. The Southeast is known for delicious cuisine, but the fatty foods and high-sodium dishes take an extensive toll on our health. To prevent hypertension, enjoy a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy, healthy fats, and whole grains. Avoid foods high in sodium, sugar, and trans fats. Not only will this way of eating help you lose weight, it can also help reduce cholesterol and diabetes—two other major causes of heart disease.

3. Be active. It only takes 20 minutes of activity per day to help protect your heart. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk around the block while talking on the phone. You don’t have to invest lots of time and money into fitness. Start small. Your stamina and strength will eventually build, while your risk of hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes decreases. Physical activity is also an excellent stress-reducer, which is essential to lower your risk of heart disease.

4. Lose weight. Obesity is directly linked to an increased risk of heart disease. If you have a substantial amount of fat around your midsection, your chances of developing high cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes are much higher. And remember: lifestyle changes need to happen gradually. Changing behaviors too quickly or drastically can lead to frustration and an inability to meet your goals.

5. Quit smoking. Have you ever added up the amount of money you spend on cigarettes in a month? What about in a year? It’s probably a big number. If you think you’re spending a lot of money on smoking, it pales in comparison to what you’re spending in regards to your health—studies show that smoking can take 10 years off of your life. By quitting, you can significantly lower your blood pressure and your risk of heart disease and stroke.

6. Drink alcohol in moderation (or avoid completely). Consuming more than the recommended serving of alcohol in one sitting can temporarily raise your blood pressure, and long-term, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to chronic hypertension. Avoiding alcohol is best, but if you drink, follow the recommended servings:

  • Women: one drink per day
  • Men: two drinks per day (one drink per day over the age of 65)
  • Serving sizes:
    • Beer: 12 ounces
    • Wine: 5 ounces
    • Liquor: 5 ounces

Alcohol can also lead to unwanted weight gain, and can hinder the effectiveness of some blood pressure medications.

So, do you feel it’s time that you or a loved one is checked for hypertension? Are you struggling to make the necessary lifestyle changes your doctor recommends? Erlanger is always here to help you on your journey to wellness. Speak with your primary care physician about your concerns or make an appointment at one of our conveniently located health centers to learn how you can live diabetes-free.