Interview by Ann Smith
Dr. Larrell Wilkinson recently completed the Healthy Eating Activity Rest Together (HEART) Matters Study, a pilot project which examined physical activity among African American men. The data are undergoing further analysis but several trends arose, which support recommendations you may have heard before. This is reinforcement for all of us, in recognition of November being Men’s Health Awareness month.
Dr. Wilkinson summarized the preliminary findings from his study in a challenge to each man:
- Do more moderate-vigorous physical activity on a daily basis – moderate to vigorous activities are actions that cause you to break a sweat, raise your heart rate and breathing rate, while tiring your muscles. The men in the study performed good amounts of light physical activity and even some activities at moderate levels. Still, performance of more activities of moderate to vigorous intensity are needed in greater frequency (i.e. 30 or more minutes a day, for at least 5 days out of the week).
- Eat more plant-based foods, that is, vegetables and fruits, and mainly vegetables. For example, try doing Meatless Mondays, especially after Thanksgiving, and into the holidays. Not only does it support your heart health, but reduces your risk for many cancers and other diseases, while assisting in losing weight or weight management.
- Get more sleep – try to sleep 7 to 9 hours each night. Develop a regimented wake up and sleep time for every day, and work to stick to that routine. Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages, such as coffee or soda, after 6 PM (or even after 2 PM). Instead, drink water. Need a “pick me up” snack? Instead of sweets, try nuts and fruits.
- Work your support network, be it through a counselor or a trusted pastor, or another person in whom you can confide. Social support networks around you, including friends, brothers, and family, can provide a listening ear for the stressors that you face. Developing your spirituality in a manner comfortable to you (i.e. through prayer, meditation, and volunteerism) helps as well. Everyone experiences stressful events during the course of the day, and we need healthy ways to manage our stress.
Larrell L. Wilkinson, PhD, MSPH, CHES, is Assistant Professor in Community Health and Human Services, in the Department of Human Studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
His pilot project is supported by the Center for Healthy African American Men through Partnerships (CHAAMPS), a Transdisciplinary Collaborative Center (TCC) funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). CHAAMPS is a consortium of regional academic centers and community organizations, and is a first-ever collaborative center to develop, implement, and evaluate interventions to improve African American men’s health through research, outreach, and training.