written by Erika L Harper, LPC
One of the main areas that Black women are behind the eight ball is with our health. In 2019, despite decades of marketing pushes about eating healthy and working out, Black women still rank higher than women of other races for dying from various cardiovascular-related diseases. Simultaneously, we have made progress. Even though we are the most likely to be afflicted with heart disease, there are still fewer of us dying from these diseases than ever before. With that being said, we still have a lot of work to do.
Black women have always been at the helm of change in this country. We have repeatedly proved ourselves to be more than capable leaders. We have been fierce change agents, and fearsome opponents, all in the face of sexism, racism, colorism, and every other –ism that Black women have to navigate through daily. We are the hub that keeps our Black culture spinning beautifully and brightly. Without us, the whole system falls apart, and, quite frankly, it’s a lot of work to keep all of the moving parts operating gracefully. However, to fulfill any of these roles, we need to be in the best possible condition physically. We need as many brilliant Black female minds so that we don’t end up repeating parts of history that we thought were tucked into the annals of the past. We must remember how essential having healthy bodies are to our social justice efforts.
Black women have mastered the concept of sharpening our minds. But most people aren’t raised to understand how the physical body is connected to the mind; both should be honored equally. There are a multitude of processes that happen both in the brain and the body when we work out. Your heart rate increases, forcing your heart to circulate more oxygen to your body and mind. The constant influx of life-giving oxygen and blood causes your body to create additional blood vessels, which gives you the ability to tolerate a more massive cardiovascular load. This means that your heart won’t have to work as hard for the same amount of work. Thus we end up having exponentially more endurance to do the things that matter the most to us. Being active has also been proven to decrease the body’s stress response markedly. I’ve mentioned in previous articles; stress can be a vicious trigger for the onslaught of cardiovascular disease. The less stress and more endorphins we have in our brains means that we can be more thoughtful and mentally astute. Generally, the more muscle we have, the more efficient our bodies are at burning fat.
Ideally, a plant-based diet would prove the most beneficial in supplying our bodies with the clean energy it needs to burn calories and keep us moving. If veganism isn't a practical starting point, doing simple things like removing particular processed food and sodas from our diets. And focusing on incorporating fresh vegetables and water can do wonders for firing up the body’s metabolism- especially when combined with a fitness routine. Stay away from fads or diets, which are usually highly restrictive and geared towards having you lose weight throughout short bouts of time — the same with your exercise routine. For example, If you are not a morning person, don't make going to the gym at 4 am part of your daily schedule. Maybe start with walking around your neighborhood before work or at a local track during your lunch break until you’re consistently able to make it part of your daily routine. Slow and steady wins the health race.
When creating a new healthy lifestyle, you want to make sure you’re able to sustain your food and exercise regimen throughout your life. Dieting will cause your weight to fluctuate wildly, which can be demoralizing, causing you to go back to your prior eating and poor workout habits. Further, weight can drastically change with multiple rounds of extreme dieting. And binging can prove to be very damaging to our heart muscles over time leading to the very problems we’re trying to prevent.
Most importantly, be gentle with yourselves. Even the most fit among us fall off the wagon from time to time. Indulge and enjoy yourself and then go back to your healthy ways of exercising and eating the next day. Also, understand that the goal here isn’t to be thin. The desire is to be healthy and strong. While losing weight is strongly associated with having a clean lifestyle, it is not necessarily an indicator of health. I know plenty of thick women who have bills of health similar to small, fit women. I also know of skinny women who have had heart attacks. So again, treat yourself with the gentleness, love, respect, and discipline that you would want for your children. You cannot lead a personal revolution from a hospital bed, Or you’re left debilitated because of some preventable health problem. Remember that the ultimate form of resistance with Black women is our very presence. So work on your melenated bodies with as much intensity as you make your mind and watch how much quicker you ascend toward the self-actualization you desire.
Erika L Harper is a licensed mental health counselor, sex therapist, yoga enthusiast and writer. In her spare time she enjoys running, reading, watching movies and eating good food with her family. Connect with her on Instagram here