In the United States, February marks the celebrations of both Black History Month and Heart Health Month. With that comes a special opportunity to highlight the importance of cardiovascular health and the disproportionate impact of cardiovascular disease in the Black community. The impact of cardiovascular disease is often very close – it can transform our lives as well as the lives of our parents, siblings, friends, spouses, and coworkers.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an umbrella term for conditions of the heart and blood vessels including heart disease, heart attack, peripheral artery disease, and stroke. Research continues to show that Black women are disproportionately affected by CVD in addition to being at higher risk of developing it at a younger age. According to data from the American Heart Association, nearly 59% of black women aged 20 years or older have CVD. Disproportionately high rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol among Black women increases the risk for heart-related conditions. Less considered risk factors – like genetics, family history, and stress – can also play a significant role in CVD risk. This month we focus on the impact of high blood pressure among black women. Research shows that more than 50% of Black women in America have high blood pressure, compared to 39% of non-Hispanic white women and 38% of Hispanic women. Black women during the maternal and postpartum stage of life are also very vulnerable and often experiences maternal high blood pressure which further increases their risk of heart disease later in life. Though high blood pressure is considered the most potent risk to the heart health of Black Americans, it’s also a great area of opportunity for disease prevention.There are many lifestyle changes individuals can make to prevent or manage high blood pressure like reducing stress, eating a heart healthy diet, and exercising.
Read on to learn more about the impact of high blood pressure and how black women can take an active role in protecting their heart health.
Black Women Face Social, Gender, and Race-Related Stress That Contributes to High Blood Pressure
Reports show that black women are disproportionally affected by psychological and social forms of stress related to caretaking, finances, gender discrimination, and racism. Black Americans as a whole report higher exposure to stress and stressful life events that contributes to disparities in high blood pressure and poor health. That said, gendered racism specific to Black women is a form of stress that should be recognized for its unique effect on their health.
Many Black women, due to societal pressures, experience “Superwoman Syndrome” – a woman’s neglect of herself in hopes of meeting the expectations of her role in society to perfection. Black women are especially prone to Superwoman syndrome due to their racially stigmatized identification by society, which promotes harmful racial and gender expectations. The pressure to align with or escape from societal expectations also makes Black Women subject to higher internalized shame, a feeling of embarrassment or sadness that arises from the perception of having done something dishonorable. Studies suggest that both psychosocial stress and shame are associated with negative blood pressure response and recovery.
Stress reduction techniques like journaling, deep breathing exercises, being in nature, and meditative walk can help Black women manage their stress and reduce its negative impact on their blood pressure.
Diet Has an Impact on Blood Pressure Risk Among Black Women
Unhealthy diets that are high in salt, saturated fat, sugar, and processed ingredients are known to increase one’s risk of high blood pressure and related cardiovascular diseases. Discrepancies in healthy food access can make it more difficult for many Black Americans to consistently eat healthy diets. Additionally, studies suggest that Black individuals may be genetically predisposed to salt sensitivity, a change in blood pressure in response to salt and water balances in the blood. Most humans adapt to salt loading or salt deficiencies with minimal change in their blood pressure. These individuals are considered salt resistant. The combination of reliance on highly salted, highly processed food and increased salt sensitivity may work together to increase high blood pressure in some Black Americans. Studies of individuals with hypertension (high blood pressure) also link them to higher rates of salt sensitivity. A heart healthy plant-based diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in salt, saturated fats, fried foods, and processed ingredients can help Black women manage blood pressure and reduce their risk of developing cardiovascular conditions like heart disease and stroke.
Getting your blood pumping with exercise not only increases the flow of oxygen, nutrients, and naturally occurring chemicals to the body’s cells. Exercise is also linked to decreased blood pressure in individuals with and without high blood pressure. Luckily, exercise for improved blood pressure isn’t limited to long, intense workouts like running, cycling, or CrossFit. A recent study of walking among middle-aged Black women showed an average decrease in systolic blood pressure of 3.6mm Hg. Research suggests that systolic blood pressure differences as small as 2 mm Hg in middle-aged adults can reduce stroke mortality by 10%!
Include all kinds of movement into your daily routine to manage your blood pressure. Cardio, weightlifting, dancing, walking, house chores, and everything in between can get your blood pumping and support your overall cardiovascular health.
Ready to take control of your blood pressure and improve your whole-body health?
You don’t have to do it alone! 360Girls&Women®LLC offers herbal therapies, mind-body techniques, targeted nutrients in foods (and supplements if needed), aromatherapy, and more to help you lower your blood pressure. A simple fix maybe needed or an entire lifestyle change may be required. The only way to find out is to seek out a food and nutrition expert.
Book an appointment with our holistic, Plant-Based Registered Dietitian and Wellness Practitioner Sue-Ellen Anderson-Haynes. She can provide custom, culturally relevant guidance to meet your health needs and personal goals.