One of life’s greatest tragedies is witnessing a talented professional or entrepreneur about to reach the pinnacle of success who is cut down in his or her prime. Such untimely deaths rob us of major contributors whose energy, intellect, and ability could have helped move our communities, industries, and nation forward. What’s even more tragic is the victim usually winds up being the culprit. Far too many African Americans engage in behavior that proves to be deleterious to their health and commits them to premature death sentences.
Part of the problem is connected to a condition most of us can avoid or reverse: obesity. This disorder continues to be a weighty issue and it’s literally killing us, morphing into deadly diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and breast and colon cancers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a staggering 45% of African American adults are obese. And for black women the statistics are even more alarming: the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health reports that four out of five black women are either overweight or obese. As a result, African Americans have become twice as likely as whites to be diagnosed with diabetes and 40% more liable to contend with high blood pressure. Moreover, black men have a 60% greater probability of dying from a stroke than their white counterparts.
So who’s at risk? It could very well be you. Building a business or advancing in the workplace requires intense focus and long hours—believe me, I know. But I’ve seen far too many business people—including a number of close friends—work so hard that they place health concerns way on the back burner. Others have found convenient excuses to miss gym dates as well as doctor’s appointments. UnitedHealth Group Executive Vice President and Chief of Medical Affairs Dr. Reed V. Tuckson, one of BE’s 100 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America, has an uncompromising view when it comes to African Americans and health: “At the end of the day, we’ve got to get past blaming someone else. We [must] take control of our lives.” (For more from Dr. Tuckson, read “Obesity: The Silent Killer.”)
I wholeheartedly agree. Even though I spend countless hours running my company and dealing with an array of business and personal matters, I made the decision to make my health a priority. Six days a week, I rise at 6 a.m. and hit the gym for a vigorous workout. In fact, what I used to consider a sacrifice has become a treasured part of my day. No interruptions, phone calls, or impromptu meetings. My workouts represent my personal sanctuary where I de-stress or think through problems. The residual benefits: I’m much stronger and not prone to the fatigue and irritability that force worn-out execs to make poor business decisions during the course of a long, grueling day. To complement the workout regimen is a healthy diet. This approach has pushed me to become more disciplined, scheduling every workout session and meal as I would a business appointment. The ritual doesn’t stop when I travel either; I make sure I’m booked at hotels with outstanding gym facilities.
I’m not sharing my personal workout program to get compliments, rather I’m doing this because I strongly believe it is important for business people to adopt a healthy lifestyle so they can be in peak condition, handling challenges with focus and dynamism. Too many black executives and entrepreneurs die in their 40s and 50s as they reach the peak of their earnings and power, never fully realizing the benefits of decades of hard work.
Despite decades of strenuous activity as a high school, college, and professional athlete, I’ve had my challenges over the years adhering to such a strict routine. But I’ve learned, as I hope most of you will, that a brisk walk to a fried chicken restaurant offers zero benefits. I am determined to stay the course because I fully appreciate the value of longevity and vitality. True success comes with a healthy mind and strong body.
Earl “Butch” Graves Jr. is the president and CEO of Black Enterprise.