There was something special about the way fresh rain felt under my sneakers as I skipped down the street with my Teddy bear gripped in my left hand. My Teddy Bear's name was Teddy because there was no name more creative than that. Trailing behind me, I could hear my brother and father loudly reciting the words to a Notorious B.I.G song in unison.
"I love it when you call me Big Poppa. Throw your hands in the sky if you're a true playa," they sang in unison for entire city to here.
Having just left a screening of Hardball starring Keanu Reeves, my brother and I had just learned all the words to Biggie's "Big Poppa" that we probably shouldn't have learned at 6 and 11 years old. Nevertheless, that's what fathers are for — late-night movie outings, learning words to songs that you probably shouldn't know and unforgettable childhood memories. As we moved down the New York City street towards McDonald's, I joined in with my limited 6-year-old broken English.
"I'd ask you what you're interests are. Who you be with? Things to make you smile. What numbers to dial. You going to be here for a while? I'm going to call my crew. You're going to call your crew. We can rendezvous at the bar around 2," I said as fast as I could.
Before I could finish my last sentence, the three of us were funneling into the nearest McDonald's for an after movie meal. As I made my way into the restaurant, my Dad flashed his million-dollar smile, leaned in and whispered in my ear.
"Love you. Just don't tell your Mom about the McDonald's," he whispered.
I nodded and rushed towards the counter in order to find out what kind of toy came with my meal. It's nights like these that remind me what is most important to me, family.
A few months after that memorable trip to McDonald's, my Dad passed away from a heart attack. The numerous trips to McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's that I experienced as a kid resulted in a number of illnesses that include high cholesterol and high blood pressure. While I cherish the memories of my father and I am thankful for the blessing that is my step-father, I often wonder what my life would be like with him here. I think about the questions that I would ask him, memories that we'd share and songs he could teach me the words to. Ultimately, I come back to a central goal. My goal is to make my father proud in whatever I do and more importantly, I hope to make it so that another young, Black child doesn't experience loss in the same manner that I have.
My story is not unfamiliar to Black America. The CDC reports that one out of every 14 Black men suffers from coronary heart disease. Unfortunately, the CDC also finds that half of the men who die suddenly from coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. Heart disease is also the leading cause of Black women in the United States, affecting one out of every 16 women. Luckily, there are simple things that everyone can do today in order to improve the health of our hearts. As we celebrate World Heart Day, check out these tips from the Harvard Medical School to improve your heart health.
1. Take A 10-Minute Walk
Some of us put on the "Quarantine 15," but there are easy ways you can get your physical fitness back on track. Taking incremental steps to improve your physical health are necessary. You don't have to jump straight to a five mile run. You can start out with a 10-minute walk and work your way up. As you improve physical fitness, your heart health will improve as well.
2. Eat one extra fruit or vegetable per day
A healthy diet can lead to a healthy heart. Mangoes, grapes, nectarines, cherries and other fresh fruits and vegetables can easily improve your heart health. Not to mention, mangoes, pineapples and other fresh fruit can be pretty tasty.
3. Don't Drink Your Calories
Drinking 12-ounces of sugar-sweetened drinks or sports drinks daily can increase coronary heart disease. A 2012 study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that drinking such drinks daily can increase the risk of heart disease by nearly 20%.
I am truly guilty of this. Soda has been a big part of my life, but I often go on what I call "soda fasts." For four and five weeks at a time, I will cut sodas and other high-calorie drinks out of my diet. I also keep a reusable water bottle around at all-times. It's all about building habits day-by-day that will ultimately become second-nature.
4. Wash your hands
Washing your hands is something that should be done regardless of your heart health. However, washing your hands is exceedingly important if you deal with heart issues. Keeping your hands clean can help prevent the flu, pneumonia, COVID-19 and other illnesses that can have an effect on your heart.
5. Count your blessings
There are a number of reasons why it is important to count your blessings. First, taking time to think positive thoughts can improve your overall health and thus, your heart health. Also, taking time to think positive thoughts can reduce stress, which also helps your heart out. Most importantly, there are systematic issues within the healthcare system in America that go beyond the view of this article. These systemic obstacles often contribute to the lack of care available to Black Americans in order to treat heart disease. With that said, it's important sometimes to just sit back, reflect and be thankful for the people and things that are around us each day because tomorrow is not promised.
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