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Blacktivate Lesson 006: Green Exercises for Black Women Pt. 2

Summer 2018

Hey Hey Ya! It’s your guuurrrllll, Chris Omni, the Health Hippie, back once again to activate the health and wellbeing of Black women. This week, we are going to continue our conversation about the transformative power of being outdoors. I promise to shy away from the mushy stuff this week because you had plenty of it during lesson 005. So, if you are ready for Lesson 006, throw a fist in the air and say it with me…

“It’s time to… BLACKTIVATE!”

It’s kind of difficult to tell by the opening picture, but this picture was taken just before we started walking on the Shunga Trail in Topeka, Kansas. This walking event was no different than any other walk, but the remarkable aspect of this picture, that most people wouldn’t know, is that each of the eight women were going through eight totally separate life situations.

Some pains, worries, and other life situations are worn on the face while others are hidden in plain sight. But, by the time we completed the 30 minute walk, one thing was pretty obvious-the collective mood was elevated. (Even if just for the 30 minutes during the walk and a few minutes after, I count that as a success!!) Some of you might be asking, what happened? Others of you might be curious about what was so magical about those 1,800 seconds? The answer is simple. They were nurtured by nature.

Research Time

A study conducted by Hartig et al. [1] looked at the relationship between positive emotional and cognitive outcomes and walking in urban settings versus walking in nature. Which one do YOU think was more beneficial? {insert Jeopardy timer}. Based on the title of this article, I hope you answered “nature.” Walking is great; don’t get me wrong. I just wrote an 11,000 word thesis about a walking intervention targeting Black women. I looooooove walking. But, for added mental health benefits, green exercises for Black women is the key! (I’m biased!!)

The topic of mental health is near and dear to me because I have been diagnosed with anxiety and have suffered with depression. These labels are rarely talked about in the Black community for reasons that we don’t have time to address in this article, but I promise to dive deeper into this subject during Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. But, as a quick teaser, did you know that African Americans are 20% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic Whites [2]? Psychological distress can mean major depression, anxiety, ADHD, and suicidal thoughts to name a few. I digress. Moving on…

While researching articles for this week’s post, I came across a cool concept called Nature Relatedness proposed by Researchers Martin and Brymer. Have you heard of it? It is exactly as it sounds-a connection to nature. Martin and Brymer researched anxiety levels in relation to nature, but they didn’t explore physical activity. Therefore, Lawton, Brymer, Clough, and Denovan expanded upon this work and investigated the role of physical activity in relation to nature and psychological wellbeing. What I found super interesting and telling about this research was the finding about relationships.

Just like interactions with human being, the type of relationship you have with that person dictates the experience(s) you share. Nature is no different. If a person is comfortable with nature and feels connected with nature then the psychological benefits are present [3]. But, the opposite is also true and positive effects become negated if being outdoors causes you to stress out. (All the bugs, heat, and other critters can be a distraction; I get it).

Please remember that I led this week’s article by publicly declaring my bias in favor of physical activity outdoors as a means to improve one’s mental health. But, green exercises for Black women is not the be all end all when it comes to improving mental health; it simply serves as another option to consider. Everyone is different. The most important aspect of any wellness journey is to keep trying on physical activity until you find what fits. (No pun intentend.)

Well Luvs, that is it for this week. Thank you for spending a little time with me and please tune in next Thursday as I continue my mission to activate the health and wellbeing of Black women.

High Fives, Hugs, and Hope!

Chris “The Health Hippie” Omni

PS

Knowledge is key; you can’t do better until you know better!

References

  1. Hartig, T., Evans, G. W., Jamner, I. D., Davis, D. S., and Garling, T. (2003), Tracking restoration in natural and urban field settings. J. Environ. Psychol. 23, 109-123. Doi: 10.1016/S0272-4944(02)00109-3
  2. Mental Health Data/Statistics (2016). US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. Retrieved from https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/content.aspx?ID=6471
  3. Lawton, E., Brymer, e., Clough, P., and Denovan, A. (2017). The Relationship between Physical Activity Environment, Nature Relatedness, Anxiety, and the Psychological Well-being Benefits of Regular Exercisers. Front. Psychol. 8:1058. Doi: 10.3389/psyg.2017.01058.
Posted in Anxiety, Built Environment, Environmental Wellness, exercise, fitness, Mental Health, Physical Activity, Uncategorized, wellness

Blacktivate Lesson 005: Green Exercises for Black Women (Part 1 of 2)

Hey Hey Ya! It’s your guuurrrllll, Chris Omni, the Health Hippie, back once again to activate the health and wellbeing of Black women. This week, I am going to talk about a close companion to physical health, Mental Health! This Part 1 post will be a very transparent look into my world and the labels that are now part of my life. If you are ready for Lesson 5, throw a fist in the air and say it with me, “It’s time to… BLACKTIVATE!”

Do you see that Chester Cheetah smile spread all across my face after winning the Kansas State University 3 Minute Thesis Competition? I’m sure you can’t miss it! I love this capture because it is an authentic representation of my genuine feelings of happiness and appreciation for being recognized for my research. But, there was a time in my life when that smile was inauthentic.

Have you ever gone to work knowing that you were dying on the inside? Have you ever come home and made a b-line to your bed so you could go to sleep and escape the concerns of the day? How about this: Have you ever worn a fake smile while lying to someone by saying you were okay? I answered yes to all three of those questions in 2008.

I was swimming in debt; I was popping Benadryl pills to escape my pain; I was telling lies to people-fake smiles and fake “I’m okay.” It was a horrible rollercoaster ride that I don’t remember buying a ticket for. It was time to get off this ride, but I didn’t know how. I was battling depression and wasn’t winning. Eventually, that ride came to an end and life seemed to be back to normal. Well, that was until the fall semester of 2018.

On September 27, 2018, I had an anxiety attack while meeting with my major professor of all people. I didn’t even know it was an attack until I went to the emergency room later that night. I just knew that this uncontrollable itching was totally abnormal. While lying on the emergency room table, with the ER doctor in one chair and my Epidemiology book in the other, I was told that my uncontrollable itching was symptomatic of an anxiety attack. After a few minutes of questions and answers, I was diagnosed with GAD-Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

GAD is yet another label. It was a label that I did not want to wear because it reminded me of the lack of control I had over the label from 10 years prior-Depression. The beautiful thing about this particular time was that age, wisdom, and an amazing network of sister friends were there to help me through it. Additionally, I fell back in love with walking and being in nature! Who knew that there were FREE restorative properties in the great outdoors?

Obviously, researchers knew about this and so did doctors. My ER doctor prescribed exercise and meditation as part of my healing process. (Sounds kinda funny now. I’m a group exercise specialist; I know this stuff!) The timing was great because it was fall and the leaves were changing and signaling to me that it is time to change, too. As to not bore you with too much more of the emotional backstory of depression and anxiety, I’m going to leave you with this research teaser quote that ties into next week’s discussion:

… there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that time spent in the presence of nature improves psychological health and well-being” [1]

Well Luvs, that is it for this week. Thank you for spending a little time with me and please tune in next Thursday as we continue the conversation about Green Exercises for Black Women. This research is super interesting and I can’t wait to share it with you because THIS is how we activate the health and wellbeing of Black women. You can’t do better until you know better!

High Fives, Hugs, and Hope!

Chris “The Health Hippie” Omni

References

  1. Lawton, E., Brymer, E., Clough, P., & Denovan, A. (2017) The Relationship between Physical Activity Environment, Nature Relatedness, Anxiety, and the Psychological Well-being Benefits of Regular Exercisers. Front, Psychol. 8: 1058. Doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01058
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Blacktivate Lesson 003: The Pressure. (A two-part series)

Did you know that hypertension is just another way of saying high blood pressure? Seems like basic knowledge to some, but to those who don’t know, this blog might shed a little light on the situation. High blood pressure is when the pressure of your blood against the arterial wall is high enough to cause damage to the artery itself or the organs. Wowwwzer, that is way to technical for where I want to go with this week’s blog. Let me break it down-Pickle Style!

Imagine trying to open your favorite jar of pickles. I don’t know about ya, but I love the Zesty kind. Yummmmmm! I digress; imagine trying to remove the lid from the jar but you just don’t have enough strength. But, you remember a few old school remedies: 1) tapping the bottom of the jar, 2) running the jar under some warm water, or 3) swirling it around in the air. After selecting your remedy of choice, the lid magically loosens and you get to enjoy your pickles. So what really happened in those few seconds of magic? Physics.

If you opted for old school remedy one, hitting the bottom of the jar, what occurred was the loosening of the contents and the piling of the contents on the lid. Just like that you heard a pop and all the internal pressure was released allowing you access to your pickles. This piling analogy is similar to the pressure of your blood against your arterial wall.

Time for a brief education pause:

Arteries are the blood vessels that deliver oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the tissues of the body. They are pretty important!

Fortunately, you will not hear an actual pop if your blood pressure gets too high. The most obvious reason why you won’t is because you are not a jar of pickles. (If I was a jar of pickles, I’d certainly be Zesty!) All joking aside, the more concerning reason why you won’t hear a pop is because high blood pressure is a “symptomless silent killer” [1].

To root all of this information in the foundation of Blacktivate, it is important to know that high blood pressure can contribute to stroke and diabetes. Sadly, these are three of the major chronic diseases that disproportionately impact the Black community. Black people are 60% more likely to be diabetic, 40% more likely to die from heart disease, and 30% more likely to die from a stroke.

Having high blood pressure is not a death sentence, but if it goes uncontrolled can ultimately become the death of you. You don’t want that. Your friends and family don’t want that. And, I certainly don’t want that either. If you see yourself in the gold, orange, or red zones [2], it is truly time to activate your health and wellbeing. Stay tuned for Part Two when I provide helpful tips to help lower your blood pressure and start that activation process.

Until next time, be well!

Chris “The Health Hippie” Omni

References:

  1. What are the Symptoms of High Blood Pressure? American Heart Association. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/why-high-blood-pressure-is-a-silent-killer/what-are-the-symptoms-of-high-blood-pressure
  2. Understanding Blood Pressure Readings. American Heart Association. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings  \
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Blacktivate Lesson 001: Physical Activity and Aging

How many times have we, as Black women, heard the saying, “Black don’t crack?” I am 44-years old and people still think that my 23-year old daughter is my sister. “Thank you, I’ll take that!!!” Second question, how many of us have heard that exercise is the fountain of youth? I’m sure quite a few of us have heard that, but it still doesn’t seem to be enough to get us to engage in physical activity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overall, 27.5% of adults age 50 and greater reported no physical activity outside of work. Since I’m six years shy of this big nickel circle, I’m really interested in physical activity and aging. (Truth be told, I even started taking a Centrum Silver.) But, seriously, this statistic only increases with age, gender, and race. With this knowledge, it is time to bring this topic to the forefront and start educating my sisters. If you are ready for the journey, keep reading.

In that same research article, provided by the CDC, they reported that inactivity prevalence was significantly higher among women than men and among Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks compared to that of non-Hispanic Whites. Furthermore, Black women rank lowest among race and sex demographic groups to achieve recommended levels of physical activity (Joseph et al., 2015). Stay with me now…I’m curious. Could it be that we, as Black women, are relying on the fact that due to our melanin that movement really doesn’t matter?

Black women, just in case you haven’t heard it from anyone else, I’m here to tell you that, “MOVEMENT MATTERS!” I, your sister in health, have nearly 20 years of experience in health promotion and I have seen it work wonders in the lives of my clients and students. Most importantly, my Mama’s oncologist told me before she died, that her faith and her fitness enabled her to fight for 26 years! Yes indeedy, movement matters my melanin mamas!

Now, here is where I’m going to step on a few toes. As a former personal trainer and group exercise instructor, I can confidently say, “Move for the purity of movement!” I know that physical activity will lower your risk of certain chronic diseases. I know that physical activity will help to lower your weight. But, when you engage in physical activity for the sole purpose of achieving an “end” rather than enjoying the “journey” to that end, you miss the point.

Black women, we are a beautiful people with a beautiful story. And, we are fortunate to have won the genetic lottery where we don’t actually look our age. Since we are already winners, let’s win with wellness. Are YOU with me? If so, let’s activate our health and wellbeing. It’s time to…

Blacktivate!

Chris “The Health Hippie” Omni

Reference:

Joseph, RP, Ainsworth, BE, Keller, C., Dodgson, JE. Barriers to physical activity among African American women: An integrative review of the literature. Women Health. 2015; 1-21.

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Welcome to Blacktivate

“No matter what you do, Chris, I’ll be proud of you!

Even if you were a street sweeper, I’d be proud of you!”

-Clara “Mama” Simmons

Imagine growing up with those words constantly dancing in your spirit. Words that assured any doubt. Words that provided comfort to any confused personal or professional trajectory. Words that shaped a foundation. “I am proud of you”  were the words that Mama planted in my soul several decades ago and I can still feel her energy 44 years later.

It’s funny how words can stick with you; the same is true for memories.

I remember three wishes she shared with me several years prior to her death in 2016: 1) she wanted to live long enough to see me graduate from high school, 2) she wanted to live long enough to see me graduate from college, and 3) she wanted to live long enough to see my daughter graduate from high school. Sadly, Mama was not physically present to see my daughter graduate from Kansas State University nor will she see me graduate with a Master of Public Health degree from the same university. But, Mama will always have the best seat in the house to see us grow into our own. After all, Mama wanted to be part of every major milestone in our lives because “she was proud” of us! And, I know Mama would be proud of this new endeavor, Blacktivate.

As funny as the thought is, please realize that I’m not just creating this blog so Mama can read it to her angel friends and brag about her baby. Although, I can totally see her doing that! Truthfully, I am creating this blog to provide understandable, accessible, and relevant evidence-based education to anyone who wants to make Black women’s health a capital concern. According to http://www.blackdemographics.com, there are 23.5 million Black women in the US. That figure represents less than 20% of the entire female population. But, sadly, Black women are disproportionately represented by health disparities in this country.

American Cancer Society reports that African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the US for most cancers. HIGHEST certainly isn’t 20%. American Heart Association reports that 49% of African American women age 20 and older have heart disease. Once again, 49% certainly isn’t 20%. I won’t bore you with too many statistics, yet. It’s only week one after all. But, starting next week, we are going to school and class will be in session!!!

Before signing off, I want to welcome you into the world of Blacktivatea lifestyle blog written by a Black woman for Black women and anyone who cares about the health of Black women.

Black + Activate = Blacktivate

Activating the health and wellbeing of Black women.

Lesson 1 starts on Thursday, February 14, 2019.