A year ago, I attended the funeral of a close friend. The 44-year-old former college athlete appeared to be the picture of health. But it took just four short, painful months from the day he received a diagnosis of inoperable cancer to witness a brilliant life snuffed out in its prime. If the disease had been detected sooner, he would likely still be among the living. But his fate was unfortunately sealed because he’d refused to get a single medical exam in more than 15 years.
There are countless cases of black professionals in their 30s and 40s who have died young, many succumbing to illnesses normally afflicting people twice their age. Clues to this dire situation can be found in the abysmal statistics on the status of black health. For instance, African Americans continue to be one of the leading groups in the nation suffering from obesity: two in three men, four in five women, and one in five children are overweight, reports State Farm’s 50millionpounds.com Website.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the death rate from cancer is 25% greater for African Americans than for their white counterparts. Blacks are 30% more likely to die from heart disease than whites. All of these lead to a life expectancy that runs five years shorter than whites regardless of whether we live in urban areas or upscale bedroom communities. Many African Americans seem to be in a state of denial when it comes to visiting the doctor or looking in the mirror and coming to terms with what is actually there.
However, the medical community overwhelmingly states that many diseases can be prevented through proper nutrition, a regular exercise regimen, and healthy lifestyle choices. We can no longer assume healthcare and disease prevention should be someone else’s focus—not with the staggering number of deaths in our community. Each of us must make an individual commitment to self-preservation—adopting a healthy lifestyle today to ensure future longevity, vitality, and productivity.
I know firsthand how challenging it can be to meet such objectives. I was once a college athlete who didn’t give rigorous and regular workouts a second thought. As I entered my late 30s, however, long work hours and lax eating habits were compounded by Father Gravity and a slowing metabolism. I knew that to maintain my quality of life, I had to make a stronger commitment to my health.
My renewed vow to pursue a healthy lifestyle was not a selfish one; it was my desire to be an active part of every stage of my children’s lives. First, I developed a workout regimen in which I train with a personal fitness instructor at least three times a week. Next, I began developing better nutritional habits, monitoring my diet on a daily basis and eating at appropriate times. And lastly, I made it a point to get a complete physical each year on my birthday, to check vital signs and undergo every test imaginable. My attitude about health is similar to the one I hold toward business: If something is wrong I don’t want to be surprised; I want to be in a position to take corrective action.
It’s true that these steps may sound simple, but they require a lifetime of discipline to be effective. If you follow them, a residual benefit will be how you relate to the workplace; increased stamina and renewed confidence will give you a leg up on the competition in your business and professional pursuits.
Too many of us do not truly appreciate the direct correlation between health and wealth. For one, if you develop this discipline now you will most likely continue to be active and alert well into your senior years. Adopting a healthy lifestyle means you will have to worry about fewer limitations in your business, financial, and leisure pursuits. Besides, the worst postscript to a professional life is watching one’s hard-earned wealth erode in a sea of avoidable medical bills.
The time to start is now. Committing to a program of self-preservation today will give you the best chance at enjoying the later innings of life.