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July 20, 2009

Wellness in the black community

Posted: 04:30 PM ET

Just last week, President Obama announced Dr. Regina Benjamin as his choice to be the next surgeon general of the U.S.   He referred to her as a "relentless promoter of prevention and wellness programs" after witnessing first hand the great number of lives cut short by diseases that could have otherwise been deterred.

African American health

Benjamin said that diabetes, hypertension, HIV and lung cancer from smoking were among the reasons her immediate family was not there, at the announcement. 

As CNN continues to examine many of the issues facing African-Americans with "Black in America 2," (Watch July 22 & 23 at 8 p.m. ET) a major topic that comes up is health. I wanted to answer the question: What steps can be taken immediately to stop these devastating diseases and their complications later in life? 

I turned to Dr. Elizabeth Ofili, chief of cardiology and a professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine, in Atlanta, Georgia.  She stressed that the measures you take to delay or stop one condition overlap with the prevention of others.  Diabetes and high blood pressure are major threats to the African-American population, she said.  Obesity – a risk factor for so many chronic conditions – continues to be a chief concern in the black community, according to a new report by the CDC.  

But there are some immediate steps people of any race can take to keep from becoming a statistic. 

1.) Knowledge is half the battle. Awareness of your family history enables you to take steps to avoid, delay the onset of, or slow down a condition.  Ofili suggests being very diligent about keeping a record of what runs in the family. 

2.) Jump into action.  The other half of the equation is taking action.  Many people may find themselves overwhelmed with all of the available information.  Sort through what is relevant to you and your family's health history - set aside the rest. 

3.)  Walking works. Aim for a simple 30-minute walk three times a week, then graduate to five times a week.  Walking consistently will help you maintain your weight and keep your blood pressure in check. You don't have to jog or run to reap the health benefits. 

4.)  Keep stress in check.   Stress hormones cause the heart to beat faster and blood pressure to go up - something most of us have experienced.  Using food as a coping mechanism against stress also contributes to obesity and hypertension.  Ofili says each person needs to decide which stress-buster works best for them, whether it's yoga, walks or finding time to reflect each day.

Finally, Ofili encourages everyone to be their own advocate in health, but not to hesitate drawing in other resources.  Engage your physician - or another expert in nutrition, physical fitness or wellness – as a partner.

Health Minute airs daily on HLN from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET weekdays

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June 29, 2009

Grilling safety

Posted: 04:36 PM ET

Like fireworks, grilling seems to be synonomous with the fourth of July. But you need to plan ahead in order to make your sizzling event a success. Georgia State University nutritionist Chris Rosenbloom shares these tips to keep your celebration tasty AND healthy.

Grilling safety

1) Soak it in. Marinating meat not only adds flavor, it offers a layer of protection from chemicals found in smoke. These chemicals contain cancer-causing compounds. According to the American Dietetic Association, "heterocyclic amines are a group of compounds formed when building blocks of proteins and creatine found in meat are subjected to high heat. " Marinate the meat in the refrigerator to avoid bacteria growth.

2) Avoid cross-contamination. Once your brush has touched raw meat, do not dip it back into a bottle of barbecue sauce or use it again on cooked meat. Just one dip of a brush tainted with raw meat can contaminate an entire bottle or transfer bacteria to the already-cooked goods. Rosenbloom suggests putting a small amount of sauce in a side dish and only using that while you grill. Also, be sure to use separate plates for raw and cooked meat when heading to the grill and back.

3) Numbers don't lie. Color and taste are not indicators of doneness; rather, temperature is. One in four hamburgers appears brown before it’s done, so use a meat thermometer to be assured that you are cooking to the proper temperature – that way, you won’t undercook or overcook.

For more information on using food thermometers, visit the Food Safety Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

4) Pack it up. The two-hour rule applies, but if the weather is warmer than 90º F, it turns into the one-hour rule, whether food is cooked or uncooked. Get it in the fridge or in an ice-packed cooler within one to two hours.

5) Celebrate the season. The American Dietetic Association recommends grilled fruits and veggies to round out a meal. Try garden-fresh offerings like summer squash, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, pineapple and peaches. Or stack cubes of steak and vegetables on a skewer, kebob-style.

Finally, Rosenbloom stresses that grilled vegetables don't pose a health threat, because it is the protein and fat in the meat that combine with the smoke to create the cancer-causing compounds. Vegetables don't do that.

For more on outdoor dining, check out these tips offered by the American Dietetic Association.

Health Minute airs daily on HLN from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET weekdays

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May 12, 2009

Prepare yourself for the game

Posted: 09:56 AM ET

Fitness, friends, fun: All are great reasons to play organized sports. No matter the intensity of the sport, there are a couple of things you should do prior to each game to get your body ready.

Kickball

Forrest Pecha, Certified Athletic Trainer with Emory Sports Medicine, offers these tips to would-be athletes who want to leave behind their couch-potato status.

1) Warm it up. Before beginning any type of exercise, getting the circulation going is a must. Take a brisk walk or a light jog for 6-10 minutes. Once the muscles are warm, they have more pliability.

2) Stretch it out. After your body is warmed up, a proper stretching routine for most sports includes the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Depending on the activity, you may also want to include trunk and lower back stretches.

The Mayo Clinic offers more stretching how-to’s.

And, consider:

3) Soreness, sprains & strains. When you first become active, you're putting some otherwise unused muscles to work. For instance, in the game of adult kickball, simply kicking the ball and sprinting to first base may be enough to cause soreness if your body's not used to it. The soreness usually appears a day or two after the workout, and lasts about 48 hours.

If you fall, twist something, or have other trauma, you may experience a sprain or a strain. More than likely, says Pecha, you’ll know it when it happens. If the swelling or pain lasts 3 days or more, seek medical attention.

Pecha stresses that any increase in activity level brings with it a risk of injury, but that shouldn't stop you from getting in the game. However, if you're older than 40 or if you haven't been active in the past year, he recommends first seeing a doctor.

Health Minute airs daily on HLN from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET weekdays

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Clark Howard helps you become a wise consumer. We know you're busy, and that's why Clark's tips are quick and effective. He'll arm you with the information you need to make smart choices. During these tough economic times, Clark wants to help you save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off!