Fathers need to care for themselves as well as their kids – but often don’t

Fathers need to care for themselves as well as their kids – but often don’t

Video Courtesy of AJ+


If you had to choose, which would you rather have: a healthy father or a good father?

Studies suggest men often choose being a good father over being healthy.

Becoming a father is a major milestone in the life of a man, often shifting the way he thinks from being “me-focused” to “we focused.” But fatherhood can also shift how men perceive their health. Our research has found that fathers can view health not in terms of going to the doctor or eating vegetables but how they hold a job, provide for their family, protect and teach their children, and belong to a community or social network.

As founder and director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health at Vanderbilt University and as a postdoctoral fellow from Meharry Medical College, we study why men live shorter lives than women, male attitudes about fatherhood, how to help men engage in healthier behavior – as well as what can be done to reduce men’s risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Work and health

Working with men to try to get them to be more physically active, eat healthier and maintain a healthy weight, we found that for many, their own physical and mental health is not high on their list of priorities. Men, we found, treat their bodies as tools to do a job. Health is not always important or something they pay much attention to until poor health gets in the way of their ability to go to work, have sex or do something else important to them. These roles and responsibilities are often the ways they define themselves as men and how others in their lives define their worth.

While many aspects of gender roles have changed, we have found that many men still recognize they are often defined as good or successful if they have paid employment that is enough to take care of their children and other responsibilities. Fathers generally aspire to be able to look after their children, spouse, partner or other loved ones. That may mean less sleep, longer hours at work and less free time for hobbies and exercise.

Wanting to be a great dad can motivate men to push themselves to work longer and harder than they may have thought possible, but these choices can come at a cost, particularly if they also are not making time to take care of themselves.

We have seen evidence of despair, such as depressive symptoms, having thoughts of suicide, heavy drinking and marijuana use, among adults in their 20s and 30s. These behaviors tend to be higher in men during the time when they tend to become fathers for the first time. Consistent with this pattern, unintentional injuries and suicide are leading causes of death for men across racial and ethnic groups in their 20s and 30s. This is not the case for women.

By age 45, heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death for all groups of men. These chronic diseases can be prevented, to some degree, by not smoking, eating healthier foods and drinking less alcohol. Also, improving sleep, sitting less and moving more are important behaviors for good health.

Rather than trying to restart these behaviors after taking a break from them for a number of years, studies have found that it is important to help men keep healthy behaviors a part of their lives as they age.

Fathers often place more emphasis on their role as head of household than their health.
Marmion/Shutterstock.com

As men age, they may not make deliberate choices to engage in less healthy behavior, but they may just do so because their lives and environments make unhealthy choices easier than healthy ones. Policymakers have to think about how to make it easier to make healthy choices in men’s daily lives and to incorporate health into the time fathers spend with children and family or at work. Men don’t have equal access to healthy foods or the same opportunities to go to the doctor, be physically active or earn a living wage, and yet, if asked, they all want to be healthy and have a positive influence on their children and families.

Where does making time for their own mental and physical health fit into dads’ busy, stressful lives? We have found that it will be different for every father, but loved ones have to help them find a way. Based on our research, we believe that families, particularly women in men’s lives, can play an important role in encouraging fathers to eat healthier and take better care of their health.

Wives in particular often provide emotional support, offer advice, facilitate men going to the doctor and promote healthy behavior. Wives, daughters and other women in fathers’ lives are important sources of information about men’s health, and they often play a key role in helping fathers and other men better understand and cope with stress.

As we celebrate fathers, it is important to recognize that fathers, generally speaking, may not place health at the top of their priorities. Many fathers gladly sacrifice to see their children happy, safe and successful. The problem is that if fathers think only about these goals, their own health can often suffer.

[ Thanks for reading! We can send you The Conversation’s stories every day in an informative email. Sign up today. ]The Conversation

Derek M. Griffith, Professor of Medicine, Health & Society and Founder and Director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health, Vanderbilt University and Elizabeth C. Stewart, Postdoctoral Fellow, Vanderbilt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

On A Mission To Help People Control Diabetes — And Save Money On Insulin

On A Mission To Help People Control Diabetes — And Save Money On Insulin

 


RELATED LINK: Rhymes Of Their Times: Young Poets Riff On Type 2


In a former church parsonage in Grundy County, Tenn., Karen Wickham ladled out her lentil stew as people arrived for an evening health education class.

Wickham and her husband, Steve, are white-haired, semi-retired nurses who have dedicated the last years of their working lives to helping people with Type 2 diabetes control and even reverse the condition with diet and exercise.

Wendy Norris is in the group, and she has brought along her father and daughter. Since her diagnosis several years ago, Norris said, her doctor prescribed insulin shots and told her to watch what she ate.

She recalled thinking at the time, “Well, what does that mean?”

The Wickhams have set out to answer that question in Tennessee’s Grundy County, which ranks lowest on the scale of residents’ health. Grundy’s population of 13,000 has the shortest life expectancy in the state and an elevated rate of diabetes (16% of adults), which can eventually result in blindness, kidney failure or amputations.

Norris said trying to overhaul her diet by herself was confusing and difficult. And when things didn’t change, the doctor just kept increasing her dosage of insulin.

But then Norris lost her health insurance. The injectable insulin cost her hundreds of dollars a month — money she simply didn’t have.

“I felt like I was stuck having to take three or four shots a day [for] the rest of my life,” she said. She enrolled in one of the six-week seminars the Wickhams offer and is seeing results in how many shots she needs: “I’ve got it down to one already.”

With slide presentations, the Wickhams explain the difference between sucrose and glucose, and the science behind the fact that certain foods, like potatoes, spike blood sugar, while sweet potatoes don’t. They preach eating as much fiber as a stomach can stand, and dropping almost every kind of sweetened beverage.

Steve and Karen Wickham explain course materials to participants in their seminar on Type 2 diabetes in Grundy County, Tenn. The six-week seminar offers detailed instruction on the biology of diabetes, diet, and exercise — and provides plenty of individualized support.

And they demonstrate ways to burn all those calories. Steve even invented the “Beersheba Boogie” — after the Grundy town of Beersheba Springs — asking participants to raise their knees and pump their fists while marching in place.


Video Courtesy of  mnhealth


Support For Hard Changes

All the workshop participants have to find a way to get active at home or in a rugged state park nearby because there’s no gym anywhere in the county. There’s not a proper grocery store anywhere nearby either, so healthy cooking can become a real chore.

These communitywide obstacles reveal why it can be a struggle for people to maintain their health in rural America. But the Wickhams are working to overcome those barriers.

During one education session, as participants shared their latest health stats, Steve called out: “Her blood sugar is going down! Give her a hand.”

If it sounds like a revival meeting, it kind of is. Steve and Karen Wickham say they are compelled in this work by their Christian faith as Seventh-day Adventists — a denomination known for a focus on health. They first moved to Grundy County to take care of ailing parents, and once settled in their scenic mountain retreat, they grew disturbed by the suffering they saw in their neighbors.

“I think God holds us responsible for living in the middle of this people and doing nothing,” Steve Wickham said.

Many people think of Type 2 diabetes as practically incurable, though it has long been known that the condition can be reversed with weight loss and exercise. But research shows people need lots of help to change their lifestyle, and they rarely get it.

“I had taken care of diabetic patients for so long, and I knew the progression,” Karen said. “If you truly want the people to get better, you have to treat it with lifestyle interventions.”

Those changes can be hard to start and even harder to maintain.

“Nobody, actually, will make all of the lifestyle changes that we recommend,” Steve said. “But if you’re making the kind of choices that lead you to a healthier lifestyle, then you get better.”

A More Hopeful Message

Along with their lifestyle counseling, the Wickhams always give a disclaimer, advising people to consult with their doctors. They also acknowledge that their seminars are not yet “evidence-based” or backed by peer-reviewed scientific literature.

But there are studies showing that people with blood sugar levels in the “prediabetes” range can get back to normal blood sugar by losing 5% of their body weight.

And weight loss and exercise have already been shown to lower hemoglobin A1c levels, a test physicians use to monitor a patient’s blood sugar over two to three months.

In addition, new research from Dr. Roy Taylor of Newcastle University in England shows promise for true remission.

“Doctors tell their patients, ‘You’ve got a lifelong condition. We know it’s going to steadily get worse.’ Then they turn around and their patients aren’t losing weight or doing exercise, but they’ve given them this utterly depressing message,” he said.

Taylor’s research finds that by losing 30 pounds or so, Type 2 diabetes can be reversed in the early stages.

Ultimately, Taylor hopes, better nutrition will become the preferred response to high blood sugar in the next decade.

“I think the main headwinds [against progress] are just conceptual ones — of scientists and doctors believing this is an irreversible condition because of what we’ve seen,” he said.

Even the American Diabetes Association has been changing its views. The advocacy group has a new position on reversal:

“If a patient wishes to aim for the remission of Type 2 diabetes, particularly within six years of diagnosis, evidence-based weight management programs are often successful.”

Dr. John Buse, chief of endocrinology at the University of North Carolina medical school, helped write the new position on reversal.

“We’ve known, literally since the 17th century, that diet is the key to managing diabetes,” he said.

But it’s hard to write a prescription for a lifestyle change.

“Doctors don’t have the time to do it well, so we have often used the sort of short shrift,” he said. “‘Eat less carbohydrates and walk every day’ … that has basically no impact.”

The Wickhams are doing their part to add to the scientific data, tracking the blood sugar of the participants in their program. And the anecdotal, short-term evidence they’ve gathered is resonating far beyond Grundy County. They’ve been traveling more and more lately.

Steve Wickham, who is a nurse, draws blood at the midpoint of his and wife Karen’s six-week diabetes seminar. The hemoglobin A1c levels measured by the lab test help patients monitor whether the diet and exercise changes they’re engaged in are making a difference in their blood sugar levels.

The couple just sold their retirement home so they can say “yes” to all the invitations they’ve received, mostly from Seventh-day Adventist groups, to present their program to other communities around the country.

This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes Nashville Public Radio, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Confused about what to eat? Science can help

Confused about what to eat? Science can help

Video Courtesy of Johns Hopkins Medicine


Do you feel like nutritionists are always changing their minds? Do you want science-based information about diet but don’t know whom or what to believe?

If you’re nodding in agreement, you’re not alone: More than 80% of Americans are befuddled.

Yet it’s a lament that’s getting quite tiring – if you’re a nutrition scientist, that is. So much so that I refocused my career to shine scientific light on today’s critical food conversations, which have profound impacts on public health and the environment. My mantra: From farm to fork, what we eat matters.

In fact, did you know that 80% of chronic diseases are preventable through modifiable lifestyle changes, and diet is the single largest contributing factor?

Science says plants are better for you and our planet

Scientists agree plant-based diets are better for both you and the planet.
casanisa/shutterstock.com

Clean eating or keto? Paleo or gluten-free? Whole 30 or vegan? Forget fad diets, because science has the answers – there is far more agreement about diet and health than you may know. The scientific report from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, for example, concluded that a plant-based diet is best for human health and the environment alike. More than 75% of your meal should comprise vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and protein sources should include beans, peas, nuts, seeds and soy.

Canada’s 2019 Food Guide is similarly plant-focused, as is Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate, while Brazil emphasizes foods “mainly of plant origin.” These guidelines and others also stress the importance of limiting processed and ultra-processed foods.

There’s also consensus from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and others that plant-based diets are more sustainable, largely due to the high energy inputs and environmental damage of livestock.

While it may sound like a fad, a “plant-based” diet has been studied for decades. Awareness escalated as it addresses two urgent public health challenges: the chronic disease epidemic and the climate change crisis. It’s a win-win for human health and the environment. Plant-based diets can be adapted to suit your taste preferences, traditions and cultures, as the Blue Zones, or regions of the world where people typically live longer than average and with fewer chronic diseases, indicate.

If science has the keys to a health-promoting, disease-preventing, planet-saving diet, why are people so confused? A closer look will arm you with the skills to sort fact from fiction.

There’s money in confusion

Celebrity junk science is an obvious player. It might even be cloaked in scrubs, like Dr. Oz – though chastised by the Senate for his quackery. (Physicians, in general, have little to no training in nutrition.)

Celebrities garner enormous platforms, often clouding the truth (or drowning it completely); the deal between Netflix and Gwyneth Paltrow, whose company Goop was sued over a certain jade egg, suggests that science is losing the battle.

One needn’t be a celebrity to hold sway, however. A list of the Top 100 influencers showed that most were bloggers or athletes with no expertise. (None were scientists.) These voices gain considerable traction on social media. Health Feedback, a network of scientists who review the accuracy of online content, conducted a study with the Credibility Coalition and found a minority of articles received a positive rating, with most “exaggerating the benefits and harms of various foods.”

Traditional media don’t always shed light, alas. Single-study sensationalism is ubiquitous – for example, glyphosate in oats, coconut oil and weight, coffee causing cancer – and findings lack context.

And science journalism has taken a hit, and is perhaps why CNN interviewed an anti-science zealot. Or why the Los Angeles Times tweeted that there’s a “growing belief” about the health benefits of celery juice. (Pro tip: It’s not a thing.)

Surrounding the din of bogus dietary advice and media hype is a backdrop of science denialism, which legitimizes anti-science when espoused from top levels of government. Science illiteracy also plays a role.

Nonetheless, there are knowledge gaps: 57% of Americans have never seen the dietary illustration from the U.S. Department of Agriculture called MyPlate or know little about it, and 63% reported it was hard to recognize sustainable choices. Shoppers also claimed that identifying healthy food was difficult (11%) or moderate (61%). Unsurprising, perhaps, since 48% looked to crowded food packages for guidance: Some labels are meaningful while others are little more than marketing. (All natural, anyone?) Indeed, powerful food and agriculture lobbies still exert influence on dietary guidelines and obscure the science.

Through all of this, I believe the nutrition science community has tacitly contributed by failing to participate collectively in the public discourse. Nor have we adequately defended our discipline when attacked, whether by journalists, physicians or food writers.

Changing the conversation

Potent societal powers create a culture of nutrition confusion that not only obfuscate the truth about diet, they undermine science as a whole. Three steps will help eaters navigate this rocky terrain.

Begin by asking critical questions when digesting diet news. Does the writer have an advanced degree in nutrition, or does she or he have expertise in science journalism? Are there references to peer-reviewed studies or scientific organizations? Is the source credible? Are miracle cures or quick results promised? Are there expensive price tags for magic bullets? Does it sound like clickbait? Questioning the who-what-where-why-how is paramount.

Second, remember that what flits through our newsfeeds often comes via algorithms that enable news to careen through our echo chambers and elicit confirmation bias, factual or not. Offline, too, we are more likely to share beliefs with friends and family, our tribe. Getting curious about what you eat and why it matters beyond your comfort zone is necessary: You may need to “unlearn what you have learned.”

Finally, try this on for size: Nutrition. Isn’t. Confusing. We all have cherished traditions and values – what we eat isn’t just about the science. (At least, I hope not.) But it is time to learn the fundamental food and nutrition facts that will inspire you to harness the power of food to promote health, prevent disease and protect the planet. Change is possible – and the truth is out there.

P.K. Newby, Scientist, Science Communicator, and Author, Harvard University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

High-Intensity Workout and then Prayer

High-Intensity Workout and then Prayer

On a Tuesday evening under the roof of a public picnic shelter, a group of women ages 20 to 55 groaned through a series of high-intensity exercises in the 88-degree heat and humidity.

Cheered on by their leader, who yelled, “you’re getting stronger,” and, “you’re going to feel like Popeye,” the women press on with  jumping jacks, burpee box jumps and a set of other cardio exercises with inventive names: “dying cockroach,” “ski moguls,” and “sparky crabs.”

But the intensity of the boot-camp-like drill ended on a quieter, more reflective note 45-minutes later as the women came into a circle, their faces still flush from working out, to close with a prayer:

“Lord, thank you for the time we’ve been able to be together and just exercise,” said Julie Swift, one of the women. “Please bless all these ladies and sustain them through their week. In Jesus’ name we pray.”

After a unison “amen,” they roll up their mats, give each other a hug and head home — until the next workout.

A host of modern exercise groups have sprung up in the last decade that aim to create fitter bodies, minds and hearts: CrossFit, SoulCycle, Pure Barre, Orangetheory.

All promise to empower, strengthen and transform while creating a sense of community.

The latest is Females in Action, a Southern-style fitness program designed to make women stronger and develop friendships. The FiA brand is the female equivalent to F3  —  its larger male counterpart, which aims to build men up through fitness, fellowship and faith.

But unlike the for-profit studios that cater to urban millennials willing and able to pay $40 a class, Females in Action (like F3) is free. Workout sessions are peer-led. They most often take place outdoors, in public parks or school fields. And they typically end with a spiritual high five.

“We are focused on fitness, but it goes beyond that,” explained Catherine Butler, who leads one of three Charlotte, North Carolina, FiA groups. “We are a community of women that lifts each other up.”

Started six years ago, FiA has grown to 53 regional workout groups spread across multiple states but heavily concentrated in North and South Carolina. Many are located in the suburbs and appeal to churchgoing working women whose husbands oftentimes participate in the male counterpart.

FiA estimates 5,700 women work out at its exercise sessions, and many say the biggest draw is the camaraderie and support the women offer one another.

“There’s nothing ever negative here,” said Caroline Uenking, 20, who accompanied her mother, Heather, to a recent workout. “It’s all positive.”

Caroline, who has some problems with her calves, and Heather, who has a hard time touching her toes, are never singled out, they said. Instead, they’re encouraged to do what they can, altering a particular exercise to meet their abilities.

Like the F3 male-only version from which it borrows extensively, the workouts have a certain military style that stems from one of its founders, David Redding, a former member of the Green Berets. Although some workouts incorporate yoga and others running, the typical session features aerobic exercise sets in which participants push themselves as hard as they can, rest and repeat.

In keeping with military nomenclature, participants are required to have nicknames, too. Stephanie Walton, the leader of the Apex group, is known as Peachtree; Janice Azeveda, who leads a group that meets in Cary, is known as Van Gogh.

But although the exercises are hardcore, the female-only environment makes it more inviting for some women.

A list of exercises drawn up by Stephanie Walton who leads the Females in Action workout in Apex, N.C. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron

Swift, 55, said she felt overwhelmed attending gym classes alongside men.

“I would prefer women who can influence each other,” she said.

The gender restriction may be part of FiA’s more traditional appeal. If some of the newer fitness center brands draw millennials with no particular faith, FiA draws people who tend to be more religiously conventional.

Though not explicitly Christian, FiA promotes the idea of a belief in a higher being, whatever that might be called (a formula that also echoes the second Alcoholics Anonymous step, “We came to be aware that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”).

Walton, a mom now studying for a degree in health and fitness science, said FiA made her a better person.

“Since I’ve been doing FiA I’ve been going to church more,” she said. “I’ve been doing more soul-searching. It’s just part of it. You start caring about people. You see their children being born. You do things for their husbands when their husbands are sick.”

Not everyone in F3 is religiously devout, and not all sessions end in prayer.

But the group leader, called a “Q,” is expected to end each workout with what’s called a “Circle of Trust,” intended as a short time to reflect.

Azevedo, who leads a 5:30 a.m. workout in nearby Cary, tends to keep things strictly nonsectarian. She concluded a recent session by reading a quote from personal coach Cheryl Richardson about the importance of self care.

A 58-year-old preschool teacher, Azevedo said she nearly fainted the first time she attended a FiA workout. She was never very athletic, she said, and gyms did nothing for her.

“If you decide not to go, nobody at the gym is going to say, ‘Hey, I missed you. Where were you?’” she said. “With this particular group, if you’re not there, somebody checks in with you and asks, ‘Are you OK?’ That’s a beautiful thing, having relationships of support. That’s really important.”

Through FiA, she’s lost weight and gained muscle. Best of all, FiA empowers women and cheers them on.

“It’s a life-changing group,” she said. “Physically you change because you’re taking care of your body. Mentally you change because you’re meeting new people and establishing new relationships and spiritually you change because you’re taking time out to reflect on your life. It’s a good thing.”

Make Fitness a Priority this Summer

Make Fitness a Priority this Summer

Young woman performing warming up exercises

I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of graduating seniors and their families last weekend during a Community Baccalaureate Service. I shared from 1 Timothy about the importance of living godly, persevering, and being people of character.

I have just completed an intensive spring of travels and speaking, which had me thinking about the importance of preserving in every area of our lives. Specifically, I have recommitted myself to physical training and the strength conditioning of my body.

I was once a fit and competitive athlete. While serving in the military I always obtained top scores on my physical fitness tests. After transitioning to a different career, however, it was more difficult to be consistent in my workouts. I fell out of love with running. I didn’t have a goal or fitness test to prepare for, and I had lost the support of a like-minded community. I was suffering from a case of PAM:

PRIORITY – When my schedule got busy (which it often was), my workouts would be the first thing to drop from my daily routine. There always seemed like something else was more important to do. I have been really inconsistent over the past couple of years. I would wake up, attempt to get dressed and discover that I could barely fit into my jeans. I would work out consistently for a few weeks, drop the pounds, and repeat the cycle.

ACCOUNTABILITY – In addition to not prioritizing my workouts, few of my local friends prioritized their physical fitness. There were a couple of friends who I occasionally worked out with, but I didn’t consistently have a partner or workout buddy. No one called to make me get up early or challenged me to make the time in my schedule.

MOTIVATION – I can’t honestly say that I always wanted to work out. I have fairly good genes. Most of the women in my family are at or below the average American weight. I’m taller than the average woman and have always been fairly small. My motivation was never a weight issue. I also eat fairly healthy, and my vitals are always great when I go to the doctor, so I’m not all that concerned with my health. My biggest concern and the conclusion I have drawn is: This is an area in my life where I have become lazy. It is that simple and I don’t like it!

In 1 Timothy, Paul wrote:

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (1 Tim 4:7-8 NIV).

Paul also wrote in 1 Cor. 9:24-27:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

In these passages and other scriptures, the Apostle Paul makes the analogy between physical and spiritual discipline. His audience lived in a very athletic and militarized society, so he spoke in a language that they would have understood. He acknowledges the importance of training and disciplining our bodies. He connects the perseverance of this discipline to motivate his hearers concerning their spiritual life. He is basically asking them to consider:

If we are not disciplined in the simple things of this world, like the stewardship of our own bodies (which belong to the Lord), how can we persevere in the more important spiritual matters?

When we make daily decisions about the priority, accountability, and motivation concerning our physical training, we are disciplining ourselves and learning to persevere in the simple things of this life. This is good steward of the gifts of a healthy body and able limbs that God has given us.

I have decided to defeat PAM. I made some changes this year, particularly over the past two months:

PRIORITY – I thank God that I have been able to join a gym that offers classes. When I am not traveling, I schedule gym classes into my day like I would a meeting or a phone conference. Once the workout is on my calendar, I don’t miss it unless I have another option in the day that will work better.

ACCOUNTABILITY – The gym classes offer a great deal of accountability because I know when I am supposed to show up. We can call this self-leadership. When I get there, an instructor has prepared and motivates me to push myself along the way. I see the instructor as my accountability partner, he or she will not allow me to rest too long between sets or quit on myself.

My husband also bought me a Fitbit for Christmas. This helpful tool gives users the ability to track daily steps, sleep, food and calorie intake, heart rate, etc. I primarily use it to track my steps. So much of my work requires that I sit in a chair. My progress (or lack thereof) on the Fitbit lets me know when I have sat too long or when I need to get up and get moving around. It is recommended that we walk 10,000 steps a day to maintain weight on the average American diet. That is my daily step goal. Entering step competitions (which can include walking or running) with friends also keeps me accountable to this challenge.

mcopelandwillwhatiwant-resizeMOTIVATION – I wish I could tell you that the Word of God convicted me and motivated me to change my slothfulness in this area of my life. The truth is female soloist at American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland, was my inspiration. I follow @mistyonpointe on Instagram and am constantly motivated by her strength and physical stamina. I will never have Misty’s body, but she has motivated me to work hard for my best physical self.

My five favorite exercises right now are:

Squats

Lunges

Bicep Curls

Chest Press

High Knees

The instructors always put push-ups at the end of the workout when I am weak, but I am working my way back up to proficiency in this area that used to be a strength.

Health is Wealth

Health is Wealth

In the middle of lively conversation over dinner with a friend recently, he paused, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath while placing his hand over his chest. The pain was evident on his face. When I asked what was wrong, he shared that he had been experiencing chest pains and fatigue with regular occurrence.

“Have you been to the doctor?” I asked.

“Nah. It’s probably anxiety. I’ve been stressed at work lately.”

We talked honestly about the severity of his symptoms and when they started. And because we’re cool, I asked about the results from his latest physical examination. Turns out, not only had he not seen a doctor about his recent episodes, he had not had a regular check-up in three years. I urged him to go to the doctor as soon as possible in the event that his symptoms were evidence of a significant illness.

Health is wealth.

African Proverb

If health is wealth, and it is, then many African Americans are guilty of not knowing the balance in our accounts. Meaning, annual check-ups and preventative care are not what we do. For my friend, it was a perceived lack of time that moved annual doctor’s visits to the bottom of his list of priorities. I can identify with him. While I do not skip my annual visits to my primary care physician and gynecologist, often when I am sick, I ignore the symptoms. My husband has to gently encourage me to call the doctor. Between keeping up home, shuttling our girls to their activities, ministry, and work, who has time to sit in a waiting room for hours?

For others, lack of insurance coverage, fear of disease, and historic exploitation of black bodies in medical science that fostered a distrust of doctors keeps them from scheduling preventative exams and following up on symptoms. The reality is that preventative care costs less than treating a preventable disease and browsing Dr. Google can invoke more fear that having concrete information and making informed decisions about your health. There is also the systemic racism, trauma and devaluing of our bodies that African Americans have and continue to face — experiences that have caused us to normalize pain to the point that we ignore the signs when our bodies are suffering. I am reminded of the woman recorded in Luke 13:10-17 who was bent over for eighteen years. The Bible does not tell us that at any point she sought healing. She went about her business living in chronic pain until Jesus saw her and healed her.

We are living in grind culture, where many of us skimp on sleep and spend countless hours scrolling on devices while eating conveniently packaged foods packed with sodium, fat, and sugar. And although African Americans are living longer in general, reports show that younger African Americans (18-49) are afflicted with and dying of treatable diseases like heart disease, stroke, and complications from diabetes at an alarming rate, according to the CDC. In fact, younger African Americans are living with diseases that commonly affected older adults. The stressors from unemployment, underemployment, poverty, and lack of access to healthcare negatively impacts their health. We are living longer, but we are getting sick earlier.

I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.

Psalm 118:17 (NRSV)

What are we to do? The first thing is to make a decision to live. Part of that decision is to make annual physical examinations a priority. As the proverb goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I schedule all of my appointments—annual physical, gynecological exam, mammogram, and eye examination around my birthday. Doing so helps me to remember my appointments and also helps me to recognize the blessed gift of life that God has given me to steward.  The other part of that decision to live is to listen to our bodies and to follow up with a doctor if even the slightest thing is off, with the recognition that we are worthy of care and that we do not have to live with chronic pain and disease.

Because our health is so valuable and important, I would suggest finding doctors that you feel comfortable with, that you can trust, and that are sensitive to your particular needs. Word of mouth from family, friends, and coworkers is the best way to find a good doctor. Developing a relationship with a doctor will also allow them to know your baseline levels, recognize patterns in your health, and know immediately when something needs additional attention.

The bottom line is that we have to see our doctors as if our lives depend on it…because they do. Whether you need to cram in a visit to the health center in-between college classes or you are scheduling your very first mammogram, here’s a list of the exams you need by decade, courtesy of Tri-City Medical Center:

For informational purposes only. The information in this article is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.


Rev. Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah is a preacher, chaplain, teacher, artist, writer, thinker, and dreamer who loves to study the Word of God, encourage others, and worship God. Rev. Owusu-Ansah holds a BS in Studio Art from New York University, an MFA in Photography from Howard University, and a Master of Divinity, Pastoral Theology, from Drew University. You can check out her website at https://www.reverendmotherrunner.com.