The year 2010 has arrived and many African-Americans have made New Year’s resolutions to improve not only their finances but their mental and physical health as well. Those who plan to improve areas of concern in their lives by making New Year’s resolutions may be more successful than those who do not. By writing resolutions down, informing family and friends of these resolutions so they can hold us accountable, and by using a journal to record or track our progress, many will be successful in reaching their goals.
African-Americans make up 13.5 percent of the United States population, but are disproportionately represented when it comes to health issues. The top five causes of death among African-American’s in the United States are: heart disease, cancer, strokes, unintentional injuries, and diabetes. If you truly assess these causes of death, most are preventable with modifications in our lifestyle and our mind set. The five most important things that African-Americans must do to improve their health and longevity in 2010 are: make an appointment with your doctor, smoking cessation, weight loss, regular exercise, and stress reduction.
It is a known fact that African-Americans are treated less aggressively and diagnosed later in the stages of chronic diseases, like colon cancer, than other Americans. As a result, health outcomes and the patients overall prognosis are generally poorer. The reasons for this are many (lack of access to care, lack of insurance, or lack of awareness about health disparities), but a major reason is because many of us don’t make regular appointments with our primary care physicians. December or January are great months to make an appointment with your primary care doctor to discuss general health concerns, family history, diet and exercise programs. Come into the New Year with a plan and leave the doctor’s office with a clean bill of health so as to reassure and positively reinforce the goals you have set for the upcoming year.
Cigarette smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States among all ethnic groups. Despite the fact that smoking rates among African-American men and women are similar to or lower than white men and women, African-American men are 37 percent more likely to develop lung cancer than white men and African-American women have similar lung cancer rates to white women. One of the best things we can do for our health and longevity in 2010 is to stop smoking.
The second most preventable cause of death in this country, soon to take over cigarette smoking, is obesity. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain cancers, and arthritis. There are over 20 major medical problems associated with being overweight or obese. The average weight gain during the holiday season Thanksgiving to New Year’s is about one pound and most people don’t lose this pound and over the years it starts to add up. By maintaining our weight during the holidays we can avoid the unwanted holiday pound(s) and start the New Year at least where we ended the last.
Proper diet and nutrition are great ways to maintain or lose weight, but the addition of exercise can speed the rate of weight loss as well as build stronger bones, muscles and create a more efficient cardiovascular system. The benefits of exercise are many, but doctors often recommend exercises that patients don’t like to do. The best exercises to recommend to patients are the ones they will do. I recommend that my patients walk at least once a day. It’s inexpensive, low impact, requires very little skill, is safe, and can be done indoors or outdoors. A brisk walk ten minutes a day, seven days a week can improve your mood, sleep, energy levels and sex life. Most of my patients realize they can do more and increase their walking significantly. I do, however, strongly recommend that you see your doctor before you start any type of exercise program.
Lastly, stress, which has been linked to heart disease and mental health problems like depression and anxiety, is just about impossible to eliminate from our lives. Focusing on just the “physical” aspects of our health neglects the mental health, which is just as important. Stress is like a cancer, and if not released, it can eat away at us mentally and physically. For the New Year, identify stressors and eliminate them from your life. One day a week, turn off the television, cell phone, and computer and avoid negative messages. Read a relaxing book, get a massage, and believe or not exercise. Exercise is a great stress reliever.
Taking these five recommendations and applying them to your life is a great way to start the New Year. Your health is definitely your greatest wealth and without health you have nothing.