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The Voice of the Black Community

Health

Good health for all African Americans
What you need to know to keep your body in shape
 
Published Monday, February 24, 2014
by Michael A. Lenoir M.D., Houston Forward-Times

Whether it’s contemplating our access to adequate health care coverage or making a conscience effort to lose weight and get into better physical shape, good health should be on everyone’s mind, especially African Americans.

Many studies have shown that show that African Americans have a unique set of problems with health issues that other ethnic groups may not have. It appears that too often we don’t see our primary health care providers on a regular basis, fail to seek treatment at the onset of symptoms or seek care too late.

There are stark factors that we should all consider. Among them is the fact that most of the leading causes of death for African Americans are influenced by our personal choices. Many are preventable - primarily heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and chronic respiratory disease. 

How do we achieve good health? It relies on these often-used terms – proper diet, good nutrition and regular exercise.  As a physician, I would also add frequent check ups.

Clearly diet and exercise are always part of everyone’s effort to get healthy. But, it’s critical to know what diet and exercises are best for your particular stage in life. In addition to being active and eating healthy, having a good health care provider for regular checkups and screenings is also important.

Diet:

There are a lot of diets out there from low carbohydrate diets and protein diets to rice diets, water diets, and countless others.  Many turn out to be nothing more than “fads.” 

You can find almost any type of diet you want, but the biggest elements contributing to successful diets include portion control, carbohydrate reduction, and an increase in the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed.

Counting calories also helps but only if you carefully watch serving sizes. A package marked 150 calories per serving, may include multiple servings making it easier to consume more calories than you realize.

Exercise:

Contrary to popular belief, regular exercise is great for weight control and good health, but necessarily for weight loss. One piece of pie can contain 500 calories. Working off those calories alone would take approximately two hours on an elliptical machine or treadmill.

Another point to consider is that exercise should be geared to your age and life stage. Over-exercising can lead to heart attack and stroke if you are seriously out of shape. Consult with a professional trainer to set realistic goals and create an exercise program to meet them. You should also be given proper, professional instruction on how to perform those exercises and increase the chances of you reaching your desired outcomes.

Checkups and screenings:

Few, if any, of us enjoy a trip to the doctor. Even doctors dread going to the doctor. But making these visits on a regular basis is a critical component of any approach to health and fitness.

Just because it is not necessary to go every year when you’re young, it’s still a good idea if affordable because it helps you get in the habit of making regular visits. Don’t schedule your annual visit around your birthday if it makes you too anxious, but consider setting a specific date for each year to help you remember.

Most men over 40 need a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) screening on a regular basis, along with an electrocardiogram (EKG) test.  Smokers should also consider an evaluation of their lungs.

Women over 40 need regular breast exams and lung exams, if they smoke. Regardless of what the literature says, PAP smears and assessments of bone density are critical.

Michael A. LeNoir M.D., president of the National Medical Association, is a clinical allergist and pediatrician practicing in the San Francisco Bay area. Founded in 1895, the NMA is the nation’s oldest and largest medical association representing the interests of more than 35,000 African American physicians and their patients.

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