‘Release the Pressure’ Aims to Help Black Women Take Charge of Their Health by Prioritizing Self-Care

Image: courtesy of Release the Pressure
Visit ReleaseThePressure.org and take the RTP Heart Health Pledge to make self-care a priority. And be sure to set your calendar to watch the livestream of “RTP Homecoming from the Heart” on Saturday, Oct. 16th at 10 am ET on EBONY.com, to learn what you and your squad can do right now to improve your heart health. You can register for the RTP’s virtual “homecoming” event here.

Here’s something that we’re not talking about: Black women are dying prematurely at alarming rates, but this is something that is often preventable. Research shows that nearly 80% of Black adults who have high blood pressure don’t have it under control. For Black women—who are 40% more likely to have high blood pressure than their White counterparts—this often translates to increased incidents of death and poor heart health due to heart disease and strokes.

The Release the Pressure (RTP) campaign brings together a diverse coalition of health care organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA), AMA Foundation, American Heart Association, Association of Black Cardiologists, Minority Health Institute and National Medical Association—informally known as the RTP heart health squad. RTP aims to build alliance and share power by giving back and partnering directly with Black communities to make the greatest impact on improving chronic disease health outcomes. RTP is keenly focused on empowering Black women to unabashedly put themselves and their hearts first, no matter the age, so that they can live longer, robust lives.

“Studies show that more than 50% of Black women over the age 20 have high blood pressure and many don’t even know it,” says Stephanie Johnson, Vice President of Communications and Product Strategies at the AMA. “Oftentimes, there are no symptoms. You don’t have any signs and that’s why it’s called the silent killer.” The RTP initiative isn’t just focused on sharing heart health facts—the goal is to change the habits of the Black community by putting an emphasis on rituals of self-care, especially when it relates to their heart health. And as we know, Black women are often the mainstays of their communities. But how can they support others and their own families, if they don’t first take care of themselves?

It’s necessary to first take care of yourself so that you’re able to take care of the loved ones around you. Image: courtesy of Release the Pressure.

RTP’s site, ReleaseThePressure.org, offers Black women across the nation free access to the necessary tools to help them properly monitor their blood pressure at home, as well as a host of other practical resources for achieving a sustainable wellness plan. To jumpstart this initiative this fall, RTP is hosting a live virtual “homecoming” to engage Black women around the country with vital information they need to know about what they can do each day to ensure they live their best healthy lives. The virtual event is set for October 16th, and will be livestreamed from Atlanta in collaboration with Morehouse School of Medicine (you can watch it here on EBONY.com). The lineup for the event includes a host of wellness influencers including Breakfast Club co-host Angela Yee, Founder and CEO of the DETOX Now, Coach Gessie, as well as former Pittsburgh Steeler and CEO of Alkeme Health, Ryan Mundy, along with a virtual Heritage Walk led by GirlTrek.

Stephanie Johnson, Vice President of Communications and Product Strategies at the AMA. Image: Sterling Photography.

Below, EBONY spoke to Stephanie Johnson about the deep importance of the Release the Pressure campaign and why it is imperative that Black women prioritize their well-being and self-care, especially when it comes to their heart health.
 
EBONY: Release the Pressure is doing something radical by really advocating for Black women to overhaul their self-care regimen. Tell us why this is an important component of the campaign.

Stephanie Johnson: I work within the AMA’s strategic arch that is focused on improving health outcomes. Our public facing work centers around chronic disease prevention including cardiovascular disease, that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown communities, in alignment with our Strategic Plan to Advance Health Equity.
 
Last year, I lost both my mother and sister to chronic health issues. Sadly, outcomes like theirs are often rooted in a history of structural racism and health inequity. RTP’s mission is to change that.

What should Black women do to change this dire health trend and put themselves on the path to better outcomes?

Take the RTP Heart Health Pledge and join a squad of women committed to putting their heart health first. And, self-monitor at home by checking your blood pressure regularly and making sure you have a validated blood pressure device.

Checking blood pressure daily will be a new habit for most. Why does it need to be done so often?
 
We want people to start thinking about checking their blood pressure as a simple daily task, just like putting on your shoes or brushing your teeth. This needs to be a part of Black culture because there are so many risk factors in our community that impact our heart health, such as societal stresses, work stresses, environmental issues and limited access to healthy food in many of our communities. We want Black women to improve their numbers and talk about it. We see this as a badge of resistance and as part of a movement. We must unapologetically take time each day to monitor ourselves and make sure we’re okay.


Education is a major part of this self-care effort and conversation. Many of us don’t know the basics—like what’s a good range for your blood pressure?
 
Luckily, there are hypertension guidelines that provide vital information about your blood pressure numbers, although it varies per person so it’s important to talk to your doctor to find out your individual blood pressure goal. For most people with high blood pressure, current AHA/ACC guidelines recommend treating to below 130 over 80.

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Your campaign also encourages folks to make lifestyle changes. What are some of the big suggestions?
 
We encourage people to focus on creating habits that help manage stressors, like meal planning. We often get so stressed that we don’t eat when we’re supposed to or exercise regularly. For example, I look at my schedule each day and schedule exercise like it’s a work appointment. You also need to know your blood pressure, heart health history and if you have a history of heart disease in your family. Talk to your health care provider and make sure you’re planning. We want our beautiful Black women living a long time and spreading their magic and love around.
 
These are all great tips. Tell us about what’s next for the campaign.

We’re on a mission to build a sustainable health-centered homecoming from the heart. Homecoming is the ultimate Black family reunion because it’s where all of our travels come together and we feed off of each other’s energy and love. It’s where many of our beloved leaders, change agents and activists come together. At homecoming, we build with each other, restore strength and catalyze creativity.

We’re excited to collaborate with EBONY, the Ad Council, iHeartRadio, Morehouse School of Medicine, and several influencers to create a homecoming centered around heart health and well-being in conjunction with the SpelHouse homecoming game on October 16, 2021 in Atlanta.


 
 
Visit ReleaseThePressure.org to take the pledge to practice self-care by prioritizing your heart and health.

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