Optimal Health through the lens of an African American
To celebrate the beginning of Black History Month, Lead Trainer Jordan James writes about his experience taking control of his health in the world of fitness.
Growing up as an African American male in America, there are many challenges that I face on a day-to-day basis. The most common ones are racist remarks and many people judging a book by its cover. When I tell people where I work, for example, they seem surprised and frequently ask if I am the only “Black person there.” This may be due in part to the fact that the African American community faces a volume of health issues and may not always have equal access to Optimal Health. However, as I gain further education about health and fitness and immerse myself in that world, I am empowered to serve as both an example to and resource for the communities I serve and the African American community at large.
According to the CDC, “Compared to their white counterparts, African Americans are generally at higher risk for heart diseases, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS.” Not to mention that many of these increase the risk of severe illness in the case of catching COVID-19. Knowing this information has changed my views on how I should take care of my body. It has changed the food I consume and reminded me that the actions I take today will greatly affect me in 30 years. By taking control of my relationship with the Four Pillars of Optimal Health, I will be able to live a long and healthy life — and help others do the same. As I examined that relationship over the past few months, I found myself focusing on the two pillars I struggle with the most (which also affect many African American males): Stress Management and Nutrition.
Slowing down and taking my time
The first that everyone should be consciously aware of but does not get enough attention is stress management. I have never been one to talk about how I am feeling on a daily — or even yearly — basis. Instead, I tend to hold everything in and try to forget about stress in my life. This was affecting my mood with coworkers and loved ones; I wasn’t always thinking logically and making quick decisions that I soon regretted. In 2021, one of my main goals is to find an effective way to relieve stress. So far, the outlet that seems to be the most effective is doing yoga every night with my wife. The deep breathing and stretching gives me the positive outlet that I have long searched for. It clears my mind and improves my sleep and workouts!
Replacing cake with home-cooked meals
The second pillar that has helped me own my Optimal Health is nutrition. I will be the first one to tell you that I love a good burger with bacon, a side of fries and a tall IPA beer. When I was younger, I would spend summers at my grandmother’s house in South Carolina — and we all know grandmas love to spoil their grandkids. I would eat cake as much as I could while spending very little time being active. Though I now love to exercise and workout (even making it into a career), I can still struggle in my relationship with food.
To fix this, I started to focus on how the foods I consume make me feel both mentally and physically. Cake satisfied the instant gratification but after thirty minutes, I felt lethargic and unmotivated. As 2021 rolled in, I decided to recommit myself to nutrition because that has always been my Achilles’ heel. My wife and I decided to take a step back from ordering takeout and cook every meal instead, making sure it is healthy. By cooking healthy meals, sticking to Dry January and doing yoga consistently, my body and mind feel the best they’ve felt in at least five years.
Using what I learn to help others
Each individual can benefit and improve their life by finding the right balance between the Four Pillars of Optimal Health. And each person’s balance will look different, with certain pillars posing greater challenges than others. For me, two of the pillars were hard for me to get under control until I decided to draw a line in the sand. After all, it takes consistency and dedication to turn a habit into a lifestyle. Now more than ever is it important to take control of your health, and help others do the same.
Now that my vision going forward is now seen entirely through the lens of Optimal Health, my mission is to educate and provide healthy calls to action for my clients. As I better myself, I can better the people around me, too. My clients see me more often than they see their health care provider (which could be as little as once a year), which is why it is my responsibility to empower them to live better. Asking the hard questions about their diet, stress levels and sleep patterns will help my clients realize that exercise is just 1/4 of the equation. By sharing my own experiences, reminding them to stay focused and believing in them, I can help them overcome their own challenges.
And as a member of my community, it is my responsibility to give back in whatever way I can. This especially includes supporting children and families who may not have access to the knowledge and resources that I have discovered. I am committed to further embedding myself in the communities I serve through partnerships, training, and most importantly, education. And this is not a one-off process; it is a daily decision to work towards a healthier life for myself and others.
Though every day is still a challenge, and there is always more to be done, I can truly say my stress levels have diminished (which still feels weird). I look forward to cooking dinner with my wife, knowing we are creating a positive and healthy environment for our daughter. I want her mom and dad to be as healthy for as long as possible, not become another unfortunate statistic solely because of my race. I am taking control of my future, showing her that she can, too.
Jordan James, CPT, CSCS, CSFC, is the Lead Personal Trainer at Performance and specializes in both post-rehab and youth sports training and spends time at our Greenwich and New Canaan locations.
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