Many African Canadians are plagued by a number of illnesses like hypertension, diabetes and some cancers. This trend will continue if we do not start taking control of our health. Though there are African Canadians that are aware of their health, many do not take the necessary steps to include a healthy lifestyle into our daily routine. Regardless of your current health status or where you may fall on the spectrum of a healthy lifestyle below are healthy ways to start taking control of your health.
1. Get an Annually Physical Examination
According to a health report conducted by Health Canada it was found that many African Canadians do not take advantage of getting an annual checkup.1 This finding could explain our reluctance to seek health care unless we are in dire need. An important aspect in getting your annual physical examination is finding out your current health status. Likewise, knowing your family’s health and medical history can help to prevent or delay the onset of health complications, such as diabetes and hypertension. It is important to become familiar with your body and to know the signs and symptoms of any health conditions you may be experiencing. Doing so allows you to pick up unfamiliar changes that may occur. The key to staying healthy is preventative care by getting your annual physical examination.
2. Get Physical Active
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, it estimate that more than 2.5 million people die each year from weight related illnesses, a figure that is expected to increase to 5 million by 2020.2 This shocking number highlights the importance of maintaining a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight can be achieved by engaging in physical activity and/or exercise. Along with improving your overall health, the way you feel, and your physical appearance, there are many benefits to physical activity or exercise like relieving stress, building a stronger immune system, improving sleep, increasing self esteem and even adding years to your sex life.3
To become more active you don’t have to join a gym. You can create a walking/jogging club among friends; go bike riding, walking instead of driving or taking the bus or taking the steps instead of taking the elevator. It is important to know that walking is the best exercise as its simple; it does not require any equipment and it’s affordable. If you find joining a gym too expensive or the gym too overwhelming, you can purchase a workout video and sweat it out in the comfort of your home. However, if you choose a workout video make sure you are doing the exercises with proper form and technique. The important thing is to keep moving, 30-45 minutes and 3-4 times a week is sufficient to reach your goal. To avoid injury it is important to warm up and stretch before each workout and after workout. Remember, for weight loss consistency is the key and stay hydrated.
3. Eat Right
Healthy eating is integral to a healthy lifestyle. Eating an array of fresh and colorful fruits and vegetables provide vast health benefits and protection from a number of disease and conditions that is closely associated with diet (hypertension, diabetes and obesity). Indeed consuming the right kinds of foods is important, but the preparation of the food is also necessary. That said learn to cook your meals in a manner that does not strip the nutrients from food and does not add excess fats and oils. For example, do not overcook your veggies; you want to maintain their bright colors in order to retain optimal nutritional values by steaming them instead. Also, bake your chicken and oven cook other meats as oppose to frying them. If you must fry, it is suggested you use unsaturated oils like olive oil or polyunsaturated oils. Add whole grains as a part of your carbohydrate consumption and eliminate processed carbohydrates from your diet. We all have our favorites, some of us may enjoy a little extra sweet, while others like a bit more salt. It is fine to sometimes indulge, but too much over indulging can be costly. If you are experiencing any health aliments, I would recommend you eliminate salt or sugar from your diet.
To help you make healthier choices you can integrate Canada’s Food Guide into your meal planning. A copy of Canada’s Food Guide can be found on Health Canada website. Furthermore, you don’t have to give up those tasty cultural or traditional dishes just add or substitute ingredients and pay more attention to preparation that will help you change unhealthy dish into nutritional delight.
4. Emotional Wellness
Mental Health within the Black community is an issue that is often ignored. Unfortunately, many of us view mental illness as a taboo topic and see mental illness as a sign of weakness. These preconceptions will continue to persist unless we as a community begin to acknowledge the problem. Moreover, a key contributor where mental health is concerned among African Canadians is the high level of stress. Money problems, health problems, unemployment, school, your job, loss of loved ones etc are all sources of stress. Ongoing feeling of sadness and worrying are stress related and can be a sign of depression. If you are experiencing these feelings for a long time, it is recommended you see your family doctor. A more familiar cause of stress for most African Canadians is the ongoing racism embedded in the Canadian society.4 Though there are no statistics to show the number of African Canadians with mental health problems, many people from this group experience high level of stress related to racism and the continuous inequalities they maybe facing.3 Consequently, racism related stress often leads to low esteem, depression, powerless, anxiety, and physical health problems, such as high blood pressure. Several American studies on the emotional health of minorities cite that stress related racism correlated with lower quality of life among groups like Africans Americans.
Research evidence indicates that mental health services that targets minority groups are problematic as many of the available services are not designed with cultural appropriateness.5 Clearly more culturally specific services/resources on mental health are much needed for minority groups like African Canadians. Furthermore, to promote positive mental health take time out for you to do activities that you enjoy, have a strong support system, learn to express your feelings in appropriate ways, strive for a balance life, and take care of your physical healthy (engaging in regular physical activity/exercise). Remember, that your mental health is equally as important as your physical health.
5. Safe Sex
According to a 2004 government statistic, African Canadians make up 2.1% of the population, they represent 12.1% of positive HIV test.6 Nationally the number of AIDS cases has dropped, however, statistics show that the HIV/AIDS in the Black Community is on the rise.6 It is vital that when engaging in sexual intercourse or any sexual activity that you protect yourself. Protection includes using condoms and/or contraceptives. It is cited that condom use significantly decreases your chance of contracting HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Disease (STDs). Importantly, in the case of HIV prevention it is recommended not to use condoms with spermicide (nonoxynol-9) because it increases the risk of infection by 50% if breakage occurs.7 As well, if either partner has a STD other than HIV, the chances of contracting HIV increase by 30%. A component of safe sex is to know your status in regards to STDs. Knowing your status allows you to be on top of your health and enables you to get treatment in a timely manner. If you feel the need to take an AIDS test, testing can be done at a sexual health clinic or your doctor’s office for free. Testing can also be done anonymously. A rule of thumb is to enter all sexually encounters with a protective mindset because it fosters responsibility, repetition and consistency.7 It also puts safety in the forefront of your mind.
So, there you have it I hope you start the second half of 2012 on a positive note and guide you to make more informed decisions about your health.
- Health Canada, “Certain Circumstances” Issues in Equity and Responsiveness in Access to Health Care in Canada (Ottawa: Health Canada, 2000).
- Dr. Manbir Singh, Manbir Online for Health and Fitness (2005).
- Branka Agic, CAMH Health Promotion Programs on Mental Health/Illness and Addiction Issues in Etho-Racial/Cultural Communities. A Literature Review(Toronto: CAMH, 2003).
- Charmaine. C. Williams, A Rationale for an Anti-Racist Entry Point to Anti Oppressive Social Work in Mental Health Service (Toronto: 2002).
- E, Pinderhuges Understanding Race and Ethnicity and Power. The key to Efficacy in Clinical Practice (New York: Free Press, 1989).
- Ester Tharda, Notisha Massaquoi, Senait Teclom The Silent Voices of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Canada African and Caribbean Women in Toronto (Toronto: 2005).
- Roedy Green Safe Sex (Canadian Mind Products, 1997-2007).