As Black people, our heart health needs can be particularly complex. This area of well-being is certainly a concern for people of all identities—heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US in the general population. But race plays an overwhelming role in who faces especially significant risks of life-altering and potentially fatal heart issues: Black people are 30% more likely to die from heart disease than white people are, and 30% less likely to have blood pressure that’s in a healthy range. For Black women, that last figure rises even more alarmingly, to 50%.
Maybe you’ve seen firsthand how these numbers really play out in people’s lives, and you’re wondering how to keep your own heart in the best possible shape. For a sense of where to start when it comes to conversations about cardiac well-being and care, here are three questions that Black people should ask physicians and cardiologists about prevention and treatment. Your heart deserves the very best—and you deserve support that helps you take control of and feel informed about your health.
1. “How is my daily routine potentially affecting my heart?”
Jayne Morgan, MD, an Atlanta-based cardiologist, tells SELF that while genetics can play a significant role in how our hearts function, some issues stem from or are exacerbated by our everyday habits. “As we move through life, a cascade of things can increase our risk of heart disease,” she explains, including what we eat, how often we move our bodies, and how we’re doing in terms of mental health. She says that eating a diet that’s low in sodium1, getting regular exercise, and taking steps to manage stress can go a long way in boosting and preserving your heart health2.
Before your next appointment with a physician or cardiologist, it might be helpful to spend a week or two writing down your meals and snacks, how often you move (inside or outside of the gym), and how you’re feeling on an emotional level day-to-day. (If you aren’t a big journaler, an app like Bearable can be great for tracking these habits and more.) But whether or not you make a log, make a point to discuss your relationships with food, exercise, and mental health with a primary care provider or cardiologist, and ask them if they see any patterns or habits that might be impacting your ticker.
As you plan to have that conversation, here’s a big thing to consider: While your personal choices can certainly lower your risk of negative outcomes, Dr. Morgan emphasizes the impact that social determinants of health (SDOH), a.k.a. aspects of your surroundings and communities that influence your well-being, can have on your lifestyle. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, SDOH include not only economic stability, but also access to quality education, safe housing, transportation, and quality health care.