The bad news is that Black men are especially prone to many of the chronic diseases that currently ail Americans—heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, prostate cancer—but the good news is that there are many things Black men can do to cut down their risk of contracting these diseases.
Dr. Nita Walker, vice president of primary care for University of Cincinnati Health, offered a number of suggestions about lifestyle changes that could extend the lifestyles of Black men.
She said the biggest killer lurking out there for Black men is heart disease.
“African-American men are more at risk for heart disease because of issues relating to being overweight, as well as issues related to smoking,” Walker said, noting that Black men are more likely to smoke than Black women—21 percent of Black men are still smokers, compared to 14 percent of Black women .
According to the American Heart Association, an alarming 46 percent of African-American men have some form of heart disease.
In addition, African-Americans are more impacted by stroke than other racial groups and are twice as likely to die from stroke as whites, according to the National Stroke Association.
As for prostate cancer, the Prostate Cancer Foundation reports that African-American men are nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to die from the disease than white men. Scientists believe this is because of a combination of genetic and lifestyle differences, including nutrition and access to medical care.
Walker said men are plagued by several issues that stand in the way of optimal health:
They are less likely to get routine health screenings than women.
“Women start their pap smears and obstetric care in their 20s, and that starts a pattern and expectation of engagement with the medical community,” Walker said.
She said job and family responsibilities can keep them from making it to the doctor as often as they should.
Health insurance is also a big obstacle for many Black men, because of cost and access.
“This issue is greatly improved with the Affordable Care Act, but is still not where it needs to be,” Walker said.
These are the steps Walker recommends Black men take to lead longer, healthier lives:
The risk for stroke doubles among those who smoke, according to the National Stroke Association, and it decreases immediately in those who stop smoking.
Adopting a lower-sodium, lower-fat diet and becoming more physically active can lower blood pressure and stroke risk.
You just can’t get around this one. The CDC recommends at least two-and-a-half hours of moderate-intensity, aerobic activity each week, such as brisk walking.
Moderate alcohol use
The latest CDC guidelines say men should have no more than two drinks per day, which should be more than enough for most purposes. (The CDC says women should limit their drinks to one a day.)
This means more vegetables, fruit and lean protein. Avoid fried and fatty food and refined carbohydrates. In addition, reduce portion sizes.