American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise

February is both American Heart Month and Black History Month, making this the perfect time to discuss cardiovascular disease in the Black community. This year’s Live to the Beat campaign, which is led by the CDC Foundation and the Million Hearts® Initiative, is focused on the small steps people can take to improve their cardiovascular health.  

The 2024 campaign is particularly focused on the heart health of Black women, and for good reason. Heart-health disparities specific to women become more pronounced when combined with other social factors, including race. Consider these statistics: 

The good news is that you don’t have to wait for the healthcare industry or policymakers to address those disparities, though that ongoing work is unquestionably vital. There are small steps you can take on your own to improve your cardiovascular health.  

Fortunately, it doesn’t require an overhaul of your diet or countless hours at the gym to make a difference. Prioritizing self-care and your personal health, both at home and at work, can make a meaningful impact on your health and well-being. The Heart2Heart Challenge, which is part of the Live to the Beat campaign, has a simple, yet powerful message: self-care is health care.  

Consider incorporating the following strategies into your daily routine. 

  • Take a daily walk: Walking daily is usually a realistic addition to most people’s daily routine, as it can be done any time of day, including on your lunch break at work. It’s important to note that a walk doesn’t have to be long to benefit your health. When it comes to walking and other forms of physical activity, some is better than none, and more is better than some.  

  • Take a daily mindful breathing break: Mindful, deep breathing can trigger your body’s relaxation response to help you manage stress, which contributes to cardiovascular health. You can do it anywhere. Simply closing your eyes and taking five slow, deep breaths while sitting at your desk can calm your mind and lower your stress levels 

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables: Eating according to accepted dietary guidelines can feel overwhelming, but a simple way to eat more healthfully is to replace existing less nutritious snacks (e.g., chips, cookies, and candy) and side dishes with fruits and vegetables.

  • Track your meals and activity: Tracking your meals and physical activity can help you stay motivated and reveal patterns that help you see where you need to make changes.? 

  • Write in a journal: Regularly writing in a journal, whether to express gratitude or gather your thoughts about your wellness journey, can help make you healthier and lead to a better mood, better sleep, lower blood pressure and improved immune function. 

  • Get adequate sleep: A great night’s sleep is essential to keeping your heart and brain healthy. Sleep is an easily neglected element of self-care and wellness, so establish consistent waking and bedtime routines that start and end your day in a way that calms your mind and sets you up for success throughout the current and next day. 

  • Spend time with a family member or friend: Ideally, you could perform some of the above activities with a family member or friend, as sharing that commitment and being accountable to one another will make you more likely to stick with your behavior changes over the long term. If that’s not possible on a particular day, call or text a family member or friend just to check in and say hello—that social connection and support is invaluable to mental health and overall well-being. 


Final Thoughts 

Making changes on your own is important, but the folks at the Live to the Beat campaign also encourage people to work with their primary care physicians to learn key numbers that they should be tracking over time—including blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol—as well as to develop an appropriate behavior-change plan that is personalized to their specific needs.