We were all shocked to learn that viral video cooking star, Felicia ‘Auntie Fee’ Odell passed away suddenly over the weekend. The cause of her passing, just like countless others cut down in their prime – heart disease.  Odell’s death comes on the heels of the sudden death of World Star Hip Hop founder Lee ‘Q’ O’Denat who passed away at the age of 43. The autopsy results revealed that the late entrepreneur died of natural causes as a result of severe buildup of plaque near his heart and obesity.

The deaths of Odell and O’Denat have helped many to realize that the time is now for putting an end to the devastation of heart disease. Curbing this epidemic of premature heart disease in our community must.

Let’s be clear. Heart disease is the leading cause of death amongst men and women in every demographic in this country.  But especially troubling is the fact that 44% of Black men and 48% of Black women have some form of cardiovascular disease including heart attack, high blood pressure or hardening of the arteries.

To prevent heart disease, we’ve got to first be aware of the risks. Research shows that every 60 seconds, someone in this country dies from heart disease and many have no idea they are at risk for it.  Common risk factors for heart disease include obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.  These are all chronic conditions that affect our community disproportionately—with rates more than twice as high for us than in other racial groups. Other factors driving an increased risk for heart disease include stress, smoking, and sleep apnea.

Decreasing our risk factors for heart disease is the key to prevention.  Of particular importance in our community is high blood pressure. Forty percent of Black adults have high blood pressure and less than half have it under control. The danger is that there are often no symptoms associated with high blood pressure causing it to often go unrecognized or untreated. But what many fail to realize is that high blood pressure is the leading cause of heart attack in this country.

Early detection of risk factors will help to prevent the tragic consequences of heart disease we see devastating our community. This requires being proactive and not waiting until we have symptoms of chronic disease to take an interest in maintaining our health. It also means doing the best we can at being creative in managing our dietary and lifestyle choices even amidst the barriers of food deserts and lack of access to resources.

While we mourn the death of yet another young life cut too short, let’s remember to take this opportunity to arm ourselves with knowledge that will prevent us from continuing the cycle. Here is a list of things you can do to help decrease your risk of heart disease.

Exercise Regularly—Aerobic activity for 30-45 minutes 4-5 days a week will help to keep your heart in tip-top shape. Walking, swimming, and resistance training are great ways to raise the heart rate and improves the condition of your heart.

Eat a diet low in fat, high in fiber—Whole grain foods are great for stabilizing blood sugar, lowering cholesterol and maintaining a healthy body weight. These are easy modifications to make that can improve your heart health.

Know your numbers—Striving for a normal blood sugar, blood pressure, and weight are difficult if you don’t know where you are starting from. Make sure you visit the doctor, have these numbers checked and know what they mean.

Minimize Stress—It’s no secret that stress has a negative effect on our physical health. While there are some stressors we can’t control, we always have the power to control our response to it. Block the stress and your heart will thank you for it.

Maintain a healthy body weight—Obesity leads to an increased risk of high blood pressure and diabetes and is also an independent risk factor for heart disease. Decreasing excess body fat is critical to keeping your heart healthy and strong.

About the Doctors:

Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall Health Media Group, a multimedia health and wellness resource, and also hosts of the Urban Housecall Radio Show.  For more from the doctors, visit their website at www.urbanhousecall.com, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter and Instagram @urbanhousecall