1. Check Your Blood Pressure. Hypertension can be a killer, particularly among African-Americans. The CDC reports that Blacks develop high-blood pressure more often and at an earlier age than other ethnic groups in the United States. That puts us at a high risk for health bugaboos such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. Take Action: Yes, check your blood pressure at least once a year in the doctor’s office—but you can check it even more frequently (as in once a month) if you invest in a blood-pressure monitor you can keep in your home. Your top number should be 120 or less; your bottom number should be 80 or less. If your numbers are high, talk with your doctor.

2. Watch Your Waistline. Belly bulge can actually be deadly for adults: In one study of patients with heart disease, a large waist doubled the risk of death. Researchers concluded that the circumference of your midsection is one of the strongest predictors of your health—some research has shown that it’s an even better indicator than Body Mass Index (BMI), which doesn’t take into account the distribution of fat. Even a slight tummy can increase your chances of developing a host of obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Take Action: Regularly check your waistline with a measuring tape. According to the CDC, a man’s circumference should be 40 inches or less; a non-pregnant woman’s waistline should be 35 inches or less. Talk with your doctor about lifestyle changes—consistent exercise and eating healthy foods—that can lead to a smaller waistline.

3. Keep Tabs on Your Cholesterol. Double-check your cholesterol; when it’s out of whack, it can lead to cardiovascular disease, angina, heart attack and stroke. Take Action: When you get this blood test every three to five years, pay attention to the HDL cholesterol (the healthy kind), the LDL cholesterol (the hurtful kind), and your triglyceride levels (blood fats). Your HDL should be 50 or better; your LDL100 or less; and a triglyceride level of 100 or lower is optimal.

4. Monitor Your Fasting Blood Sugar (FSB). It’s no secret that diabetes is one of the biggest killers in the Black community—and this test will signal whether you’re at risk by measuring the amount of sugar (called glucose) in a sample of your blood. Take Action: Do not consume food or beverages for eight hours prior to this blood test—doing so could give you a false reading. A result between 100 and 125 is considered pre-diabetic; diabetes is diagnosed in those with a number that is 126 or greater. Talk with your doctor about ways to avoid and manage diabetes; symptoms can often be controlled through changes such as healthy eating and exercise.

5. Know Your Weight and BMI. Forget vanity for a sec: How much you weigh is one of the most critical measures of your health. When you consider this number in the context of another important one (your (BMI), a number calculated using your weight and height), you’ll get a snapshot of your risk for developing illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that Black women are particularly vulnerable: Four out of 5 African-American females are either overweight or obese. Take Action: Step on the scale regularly and actually write down your weight. If your goal is to lose a few (or a bunch of) pounds, begin tracking your food choices in a daily journal. In a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, those who kept a food journal shed twice as much weight. If you’re overweight or obese, consult with your physician about how you can modify your diet and incorporate more.

Read more in the May 2012 issue of EBONY Magazine.