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During Black History Month, communities celebrate the achievements of our heroes and heroines and acknowledge current-day movers and shakers. 

We remember pioneers such as Dr. Charles C. Johnson, who served our community as a physician for more than 40 years, and historically black institutions such as Meharry Medical College, which trained black health-care providers and researchers committed to serving underserved populations. 

We also remember Henrietta Lacks and the participants in the Tuskegee syphilis study, and recognize that black mistrust in the health-care system may be founded on how racism has impacted the care or lack thereof that blacks receive. 

In the most recent study on African American health from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans are living longer. From 1999 to 2015, the death rate for African Americans ages 65 years and older has declined by 25%. Despite these improvements, younger African Americans are living with high blood pressure and diabetes at higher rates than whites at the same age.

African Americans ages 18-49 are twice as likely to die from heart disease than whites.  

While statistics document health differences, they alone do not tell the complete picture of health. Research shows that where we work, live, play and pray impact our health. 

Does your employer have a wellness program? Do you live in a neighborhood with only a corner store and no grocery store? In the past week, did you meet federal physical activity guidelines (150 minutes of light or moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity)? How many days during the past 30 has your mental health not been good?

One condition that we all can make concerted efforts to prevent and control is high blood pressure (or hypertension). Blood pressure numbers of less than 120/80 mm Hg are considered within the normal range. Blood pressure readings above those numbers are considered elevated or in some stage of hypertension. 

HBP is considered a silent killer, causing stroke, and for individuals with diabetes, HBP increases the risk for chronic kidney disease (about 6 in 10 individuals diagnosed with diabetes, also have HBP). 

Know your numbers and monitor your blood pressure. If a medical provider diagnoses you with HBP, work with your health-care team to reduce and control your blood pressure. 

The DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) eating plan is one evidence-based approach to help lower blood pressure. Also, not smoking and limiting alcohol can help prevent HBP. 

If you smoke and want to stop, 1-800-QUIT-NOW is a free smoking quitline that helps you live smoke-free. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, manage your diabetes, and for all conditions, take medications as prescribed. 

Finally, work to manage or reduce the stress in your life.

Although health disparities exist, individuals and communities can choose to adopt healthy lifestyles. Find health-care providers who will listen to your concerns and help you manage your risk for and/or treat your disease. Take advantage of community resources to get physically active and make healthy choices. 

As we celebrate Black History Month, let us lift our voices to good health.

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