Health News sponsored by VCU Health
Our Health is a Gift
By: J. Chevonte’ Alexander
Welcome to Urban Views Health News, a bi-monthly feature focusing on health, specific health-related issues, fitness and fun and giving tips on how we can become healthier individually and as a community.
It’s February, and this month is Heart Health Month! This month is the time to raise awareness and help more people survive the “silent killer”, heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Urban Views Weekly wants to also raise the awareness this month about heart disease, and to do this we head over to Virginia Commonwealth University to chat with Dr. Debra Barksdale to learn more about heart disease and much more.
Meet Dr. Debra Barksdale. She is the newly-named Associate Dean of Academic Programs and professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing. Urban Views had the opportunity to chat with her about her transition to Richmond from Chapel Hill, NC and what sparked her passion to become a nurse and a leader. She also shared some tips on how taking small steps to better our health is the best way to go. Her focus on heart health in the African American community has become a signature research topic of hers.
A native of Halifax County – Nathalie, Va., Dr. Barksdale has always had a passion for giving back. Growing up in a very rural area, she witnessed firsthand the struggles her parents and family had with high blood pressure and issues with their hearts. Later, working in the clinics, she had young black male patients who did not fit the typical profile of health issues, and questioned, why is this? Very often we see high blood pressure; poor diet and physical activity plague the Black community.
High blood pressure is the leading cause of heart attack and stroke in the United States. About 2 out of every 5 African American adults have high blood pressure, and less than half of them have it under control. Again, why is this?
Dr. Barksdale spent the last 13 years before coming to Richmond working at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a professor and director of the nursing doctoral program. For eight of those years, she also volunteered as a nurse practitioner in a clinic for homeless men. Her passion for being a nurse is what has driven her to dig deeper into the influencers of cardiovascular diseases in Black Americans.
Dr. Barksdale encourages Black Americans to develop a proactive attitude about their health. We need to get away from the idea that heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes are just a way of life in the African American community. Perhaps your mom and dad had high blood pressure and died young, or everyone in your family has diabetes — but you don’t need to accept that you will have those problems, too, she says. You need to realize maybe mom was obese and never exercised and dad ate an unhealthy, high fat diet.
So, what can we as a Black community do to help start changing this paradigm?
“Sometimes it is hard to do the right thing,” comments Barksdale. “It is hard to change our behaviors and change some of the things that have become comfortable to our diet.”
High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, and diabetes can increase the risk for heart disease, so they are called risk factors. You can reduce your risk by making lifestyle changes. All you need is a little information, a few skills and a bit of motivation.
Barksdale offers several small steps we all can take to start adopting a healthier lifestyle.
- If you are a smoker, start cutting back with a goal of stopping.
- Increase physical activity. If you cannot do the prescribed 30 to 45 minutes a day, fit in 5 to 7 minutes.
- Drink water.
- Eat less processed foods.
- Reduce weight.
- Reduce cholesterol.
- Know your numbers.
“Don’t try to change everything at once, or you will fail. Small steps are best for sustainability.” says Barksdale.
Even small steps can make the biggest of differences.
“Our health is important, it’s precious – it’s a gift.”
Check out Dr. Barksdale’s Tedx Talk, Rising from the Mud: