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African Americans and heart disease: Love your heart for good

African Americans and heart disease: Love your heart for good

Think of prioritizing heart health as an investment. Putting in the work now to protect your heart can yield priceless returns down the road, such as more family weddings, graduations and holidays, more get-togethers with friends, and more time to pursue your passions. Investing in heart health is especially important for African Americans because they’re more at risk of heart disease than other groups. This gap is due to a variety of factors, including socioeconomic and healthcare access disparities.

Fortunately, African Americans’ high level of risk isn’t set in stone. You can take steps to flip the script on heart disease. All you have to do is invest time and energy into making healthy changes—and get heart and vascular care when you need it.

Heart disease: a common challenge for African Americans

Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, and risk factors that contribute to it, such as high blood pressure, are common among African Americans. Among non-Hispanic Black American adults, 5.4% have coronary heart disease, compared with 5.8% of non-Hispanic white adults, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. However, non-Hispanic Black men and women have far higher heart disease death rates per 100,000 people than their white counterparts.

For many African Americans, chronic diseases at young ages may help set the stage for heart disease. African American adults younger than 50 are more likely to have diabetes and high blood pressure than white adults younger than 50, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for African Americans, as it is for all Americans. According to the CDC, African Americans ages 18 to 49 are twice as likely to die from heart disease as white adults in the same age group.

Meet the major heart disease risk factors for African Americans

Some risk factors for heart disease, such as a family history of heart problems, are out of your hands. However, just because you can’t control what runs in your family doesn’t mean you’re powerless to reduce your heart disease risk. That’s because certain key risk factors are controllable with healthy lifestyle changes. These risk factors include:

  • Diabetes. African Americans have a higher risk of diabetes than non-Hispanic white people. Diabetes is linked with higher risks for high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.
  • High blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease. High blood pressure is more common among African Americans than any other group of people, according to the American Heart Association. In addition, African Americans are more likely to develop this condition at an earlier age.
  • Obesity. African Americans are disproportionately affected by obesity, and that, in turn, increases the risk of heart disease. Obesity can enlarge the heart and force it to work harder. While African American men have slightly lower obesity rates than white men, African American women have higher obesity rates than white women.

Changes for the better

Here’s where investing in your heart health comes in. You can make lifestyle changes to shape a healthy future for your heart, including:

  • Eat with your heart top of mind. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet. Choose lean meat instead of red meat. Have a favorite staple of New Orleans cuisine that doesn’t quite measure up in terms of heart health? Save it for special occasions.
  • Manage diabetes, high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels. Your primary care provider can create a plan to help you manage these conditions. Follow the plan to the letter, especially when it comes to taking medications.
  • Set your active life in motion. Find a type of physical activity you enjoy and work up to completing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week.
  • Snuff out an unhealthy habit. If you smoke, quitting is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your heart.
  • Stress calm. Manage stress by devoting time each day to something that relaxes you or brings you joy.
  • Weight, to go. Eating healthy and exercising can help you get to and maintain a healthy weight.

Want to improve your heart health but aren’t sure how to start? Find a primary care provider who can partner with you to boost your heart health for years to come.