Health and Wellness

Overcome Hypertension as an African American: Address These 7 Risk Factors

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Despite the disproportionate occurrence of hypertension in blacks when compared to other racial groups, the good news is that there are clear-cut steps to prevent hypertension. However, an elevated blood pressure reading is not always the same as hypertension. Ideally, you should monitor your blood pressure for some time, under the care of your doctor, to better understand your numbers. If you are wondering how you can ascertain whether your blood pressure is optimal or above the normal range, you can learn more about your blood pressure numbers here

Once you have ascertained your blood pressure numbers, the next step is to identify the risk factors that could predispose you to hypertension. Although it is well established that being black and/or having a member of your family that is hypertensive are substantial risk factors, there are other factors that increase your odds of developing high blood pressure. In this post, we will take a look at how these risk factors can be eliminated or significantly reduced by modifying certain aspects of our lifestyle. 

Risk factor #1: Sedentary lifestyle

Prevention: There is just one recommendation to combat a sedentary lifestyle: move! A simple way to achieve this is by converting your leisure-time activities into opportunities to increase your physical activity. For example, you can choose to stand instead of sit when you commute via public transport. Also, while at your desk in the office, you can set reminders every 30 minutes to stand up in addition to taking walks during your lunch breaks.

Other ways to increase your physical activity include using a standing desk or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Exercise can also play an important role, but you should also continue to maintain a high level of physical activity during the day.

Exercise is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy weight and preventing hypertension
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Risk factor #2: Diet

Prevention: Oftentimes, people change their diet drastically when trying to improve their eating habits, but this may only be successful in the short term because chances are you might binge eat when you have the opportunity to do so. A more effective way is to gradually cut back on your consumption of specific foods. For example, if you eat cereal or flavored yogurt (try this instead) every morning, you can reduce your consumption to two or three times weekly. Also, when it is time for dessert, you can replace your regular sugary beverage with fruits.

Another great option is to embrace the Mediterranean diet, which has been recommended by many health organizations as a healthy diet to lower one’s risk of cardiovascular heart disease. This diet favors the consumption of fruits, vegetables, olive oil as the primary fat, whole grain, legumes, and nuts over the consumption of red meat, processed meats, and sweets, and can serve as an excellent substitute to the Southern diet.  Even weight loss as little as 5 to 10 pounds can have a significant impact on blood pressure.

Risk factor #3: Alcohol

Prevention: Apart from predisposing an individual to high blood pressure, alcohol consumption can also contribute to weight gain, which is another hypertension risk factor. There are different ways to reduce your alcohol consumption when looking to prevent hypertension; however, the most crucial step is to take the process one day at a time.

Some drinkers may try to sober up by going on an alcohol fast, but the end of that fast may be met with binge drinking that defeats its purpose. You can instead cut back on your alcohol intake a little quantity at a time. Another option is to try to stay hydrated as much as possible, which can help to reduce your alcohol consumption, and when the urge to take a drink comes up, and it seems complicated to fight it, you can choose to swap your favorite strong beer or wine for a lower strength one.

Risk factor #4: Obesity

Prevention: Typically, obesity is triggered by a sedentary lifestyle and diet. Interestingly, people tend to underestimate the importance of diet or eating behavior and instead choose to increase their physical activity. Indeed, physical activity can help to achieve a healthy weight because it tends to reduce fat, especially those around your waist, and decreases abdominal obesity. However, the best weight loss results are achieved when physical activity is combined with a healthy diet. Some of the notorious dietary causes of weight gain include white bread, soda, pizza, sweetened coffee, cookies, doughnut, and French fries. It is important to identify these weight-gain foods and cut back on them to prevent hypertension.

Risk factor #5: Age

Prevention: Growing old is mandatory, so you really can’t do much about this part of your life. Just like your race and family when it comes to your predisposition to hypertension, it appears that old age is also an inevitable risk factor. However, when you understand that you have a higher risk of developing hypertension or a stroke as a black American adult, especially as you grow older, you just have to be more intentional about the choices you make relating to your diet and lifestyle.

For example, as you age, it is vital to get a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, many people have a more challenging time falling asleep as they grow older, and sleep deprivation can raise your blood pressure. If you have a problem with sleeping, there may be an underlying factor that needs to be addressed. One of the common contributors to sleep disorders is sleep apnea, which can significantly increase an individual’s risk of hypertension or stroke. 

Aging gracefully includes exercise, a wholesome diet, and a good social network.
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Risk factor #6: Smoking

Prevention: The good news about quitting smoking is that former smokers can actually reduce their risk of hypertension or CHD to a level comparable to those that have never smoked. However, “quit day” isn’t something that smokers often look forward to as a result of withdrawal symptoms. In fact, most smokers return to their habit of smoking soon after they quit due to these symptoms. One of the ways to effectively stop smoking for good is to find behavioral support groups that can help you along your journey.

Also, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can be helpful in managing your withdrawal and addiction symptoms. Studies have shown that nicotine gum, lozenges, and the patch can improve your chances of success when you decide to quit smoking.

Risk factor #7: Sleep Deprivation

Prevention: There are racial and ethnic differences in sleep disturbances and duration, with African-Americans and other ethnic minorities with greater reporting of shorter sleep durations compared to whites. Sleep deficiency has been causally linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cerebrovascular disease.

Sleep is the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle and requires attention if it is lacking. Insomnia may be a question of caffeine intake or factors that are sometimes groups together as sleep hygiene. These include technology, ambient noise, and room temperature. If someone is waking up to urinate at night, they may have sleep apnea. Rather than medicating someone for insomnia, sleep issues always require investigation to clarify the cause.

Community-Based Programs

It is well established that there is a general distrust of the medical system by African Americans due to decades of racism, mistreatment at the hands of medical professionals, and abuse by health researchers. However, with community-based programs which involve using reaching marginalized African Americans in inner-cities where the hypertension control rates are typically poor, it is possible to reduce the prevalence of hypertension in these communities. In fact, these inner-city programs, which utilize welcoming environments such as the local churches or barbershops, often deliver excellent results. 

Furthermore, many of these programs have taken this opportunity a notch higher by combining their approach with technology. From utilizing web-based education to leveraging medication adherence applications, it has become easier for black hypertensive patients to self-manage their condition. However, it appears that this minority group has not been sufficiently trained to integrate technology into managing or preventing hypertension based on a recent study.

Nevertheless, the results from this preliminary study have revealed one salient fact; community and technology-based intervention can play a beneficial role in improving blood pressure control and the health-related quality of life in blacks.

Additional Information

Some of the YHF articles I referenced include:

Ayotola Ogunsipe

About the Author

Ayotola is a pharmacist and researcher with a Master’s in Pharmacology from the University of Lagos.  He is passionate about creating engaging healthcare content that drives his target audience to take action to lead healthier lives. You can reach Ayotola on his website here.

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