Putting Physical Activity in the Forefront to Positively Impact Heart Health, By Dr. Pamela G. Bowen

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Pamela G. Bowen, PhD, CRNP, FNP-BC

Physical inactivity continues to be a serious public health concern in the United States despite the National Physical Activity Guidelines, which recommend that adults participate in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. Physical activity is an evidenced-based, noninvasive, cost-effective and nonpharmacological approach to prevent and manage obesity and obesity-related illnesses. Moreover, physical activity, including aerobic or muscle strengthening exercises, can reduce the risk for chronic conditions such as obesity, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, some cancers and heart disease. Yet, physical activity as a treatment is still underused by many healthcare providers.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent less likely to engage in active physical activity as non-Hispanic Whites. Given that many obesity related illnesses such as heart disease are disproportionally higher among African Americans, it is crucial for the health of the African American community that we embrace the need to get active and follow the guidelines. As a physical activity researcher, I focus on reducing health disparities among African Americans and I have seen the positive impact physical activity and exercise can have on patients.

As a nurse practitioner  as well as a patient who has taken hypertensive medication in the past, I can attest to the overall physical and mental health benefits gained from engaging in a regular program of physical activity. I also understand that reducing obesity health disparities among African Americans requires a multifaceted approach, and my research has focused on a variety of means to encourage physical activity and engage health care providers in promoting physical activity.

The American College of Sports Medicine supports the “Exercise is Medicine” (EIM) initiative, a global health initiative that encourages primary healthcare providers to assess physical activity levels of patients, discuss strategies to increase or maintain adequate physical activity, and provide physical activity prescriptions when caring for all patients. This initiative suggests that it is imperative for all primary healthcare providers, including nurse practitioners and physicians who treat patients across the lifespan, to prescribe regular physical activity as part of a patient’s preventive care regimen. Doing so can prevent and manage many chronic diseases. Like the American College of Sports Medicine’s EIM initiative, I believe that it is important that all healthcare providers keep physical activity discussions in the forefront when providing patient care.

February is designated American Heart Month to raise awareness about heart disease. In the U.S., approximately 25 percent of men and women die annually from heart disease, making it the leading cause of mortality among both men and women. The risk of heart disease is even greater among African Americans. Fortunately, simple changes, like engaging in physical activity, can often decrease or prevent heart disease. Other positive changes that impact heart disease prevention include, managing stress, eating healthy, limiting alcohol consumption, controlling cholesterol and blood pressure, and not smoking.

By encouraging these positive health habits, as well as the recommended 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, nurse practitioners and physicians can help patients reduce their risk for heart disease as well as other chronic health conditions and make all communities healthier.

Pamela G. Bowen, PhD, CRNP, FNP-BC, is an assistant professor of nursing with more than 18 years of experience as a certified family nurse practitioner. Her patient population is predominantly African Americans with obesity-related chronic illnesses, and her program of research focuses on physical activity, obesity reduction, successful minority aging, and reducing health disparities among African Americans. For African Heritage and Health Week, which takes place the first week of February, Dr. Bowen wrote about her research on emphasizing physical activity to positively affect overall health.

One thought on “Putting Physical Activity in the Forefront to Positively Impact Heart Health, By Dr. Pamela G. Bowen

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  1. Excellent information! I never thought HBP would be an issue in my life as my BP has been 120/80 or below for years! But, I am a part of the stats as I have reached my 60’s. With a strong family history for CVA’s I am now taking control!

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