Evidence has shown that while African-Americans have high cholesterol levels, they are slightly lower compared to white Americans. But then they have a 30 percent chance of dying from heart disease, according to a 2010 report from the American Heart Association.
Since April is National African-American Women's Fitness Month, it has been on Leona Buchanan's mind to change her diet, her lifestyle, and start exercising. "Black people are known to have high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and diabetes," said Buchanan, who grappled with high cholesterol herself.
Buchanan has given up beef and pork, and eats only fish, chicken and turkey. She also joined the Healthy Church Challenge 100-day weight loss competition to work off those unwanted pounds.
Last year she lost a total of 30 pounds during the Challenge and gained 10 back. "I'm still working on it," said Buchanan, a member of Fullview Missionary Baptist Church. Now she is working on losing 50 pounds altogether.
"I'm just trying to stay healthy by eating the right foods and exercising so I can live longer," said Buchanan, a 55-year-old mother of three daughters.
African-American women like Buchanan are working out quite often and changing their lifestyle – not just to get in a smaller dress size, but to be a little more active to ward off diseases that statistically affect African-Americans.
Many of those diseases, along with a sedentary lifestyle, contribute to African-American women becoming obese according to the AHA. These facts were reasons why Sheila Madison, a personal development training specialist in Washington, D.C., founded The National African-American Women's Fitness Month seven years ago.
"Focusing on fitness during the month of April allows me an opportunity to help women become aware of the negative effects of an inactive lifestyle. In addition, the month of April symbolizes renewal and it's an excellent time to jump-start a fitness schedule after the winter months," said Madison, founder of Sheila Madison & Associates.
Debora Edingbourgh started her fitness schedule at the beginning of the year. A high cholesterol level and a lump in her breast convinced her to take her health seriously. Her parents also helped to make up her mind.
"My parents suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes. They take so many pills and I didn't want to be like that," said Edingbourgh, who didn't hesitate to sign up when the Challenge launched on Feb. 2.
A member of First Baptist Church-Broad, Edingbourgh started pushing herself to lose the weight. "The Healthy Church Challenge motivated me even more to work off the weight," said Edingbourgh, the mother of two sons.
"I just want to live a long healthy life," she said.
Although Edingbourgh is working out nearly every day to stay healthy, she also is working with her husband – who is predisposed to diabetes – to get his cholesterol level down. "He's on the same path that I'm on. So it makes it easy," she said.
Edingbourgh used to drink two to three sodas a day. She stopped cold turkey in December 2012. Now she drinks only water. "I was a Dr. Pepper addict," she admits.
Gwyneth Cloyd quit the Challenge last year shortly after signing up. She still needed to get the weight off, so she decided she'd stay the course this time. "The Healthy Church Challenge started on my birthday, so I figured it would be a good birthday present for me," she said.
A member of Fullview Missionary Baptist Church, Cloyd made a personal decision to take care of herself. In fact, she wants to lose 50-75 pounds. She is challenging herself to eat the right foods and exercise.
"I'm not on a diet; it's a lifestyle change," said Cloyd, adding, "Women are emotional eaters. It's not that we have a physical need to eat; we have an emotional need to eat."
Cloyd is the caretaker of her 84-year-old mother. Her father died two years ago. Now that she's 56 years old and working a full-time job, the thought of living a sedentary lifestyle just didn't make sense to her.
"I'm looking better and I feel better," she said.
A 9-1-1 supervisor for Shelby County Government, Cloyd has heard a lot of distressed calls. Most of them would rankle or evoke sympathy, she said.
"The Challenge is good, but my overall health is the biggest motivator in this competition."
(Wiley Henry is with The Carter Malone Group.)