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Improving Your Health

Tips for African American Men and Women

 

You do not have to stop eating chocolate cake or start running marathons to improve your health. Making small but steady changes in your eating and physical activity habits, over time, may help you lose weight if you need to, feel better, and improve your health. The information below can help you start to change your physical activity and eating habits. When you make changes to improve your health, you may also move your friends and family to do the same.

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Am I overweight?

Overweight and obesity in adults can be defined using the body mass index (BMI), a tool that measures weight in relation to height. The table below shows how BMI calculation works. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 refers to a healthy weight, a BMI of 25 to 29.9 refers to overweight, and a BMI of 30 or higher refers to obesity.

Table 1: Body Mass Index

To use the table, find the appropriate height in the left-hand column labeled Height. Move across to a given weight (in pounds).
The number at the top of the column is the BMI at that height and weight. Pounds have been rounded off.

  Normal Overweight Obese Extreme Obesity
         
BMI 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54
Height
(inches)
    Body Weight
(pounds)
 
58 91 96 100 105 110 115 119 124 129 134 138 143 148 153 158 162 167 172 177 181 186 191 196 201 205 210 215 220 224 229 234 239 244 248 253 258
59 94 99 104 109 114 119 124 128 133 138 143 148 153 158 163 168 173 178 183 188 193 198 203 208 212 217 222 227 232 237 242 247 252 257 262 267
60 97 102 107 112 118 123 128 133 138 143 148 153 158 163 168 174 179 184 189 194 199 204 209 215 220 225 230 235 240 245 250 255 261 266 271 276
61 100 106 111 116 122 127 132 137 143 148 153 158 164 169 174 180 185 190 195 201 206 211 217 222 227 232 238 243 248 254 259 264 269 275 280 285
62 104 109 115 120 126 131 136 142 147 153 158 164 169 175 180 186 191 196 202 207 213 218 224 229 235 240 246 251 256 262 267 273 278 284 289 295
63 107 113 118 124 130 135 141 146 152 158 163 169 175 180 186 191 197 203 208 214 220 225 231 237 242 248 254 259 265 270 278 282 287 293 299 304
64 110 116 122 128 134 140 145 151 157 163 169 174 180 186 192 197 204 209 215 221 227 232 238 244 250 256 262 267 273 279 285 291 296 302 308 314
65 114 120 126 132 138 144 150 156 162 168 174 180 186 192 198 204 210 216 222 228 234 240 246 252 258 264 270 276 282 288 294 300 306 312 318 324
66 118 124 130 136 142 148 155 161 167 173 179 186 192 198 204 210 216 223 229 235 241 247 253 260 266 272 278 284 291 297 303 309 315 322 328 334
67 121 127 134 140 146 153 159 166 172 178 185 191 198 204 211 217 223 230 236 242 249 255 261 268 274 280 287 293 299 306 312 319 325 331 338 344
68 125 131 138 144 151 158 164 171 177 184 190 197 203 210 216 223 230 236 243 249 256 262 269 276 282 289 295 302 308 315 322 328 335 341 348 354
69 128 135 142 149 155 162 169 176 182 189 196 203 209 216 223 230 236 243 250 257 263 270 277 284 291 297 304 311 318 324 331 338 345 351 358 365
70 132 139 146 153 160 167 174 181 188 195 202 209 216 222 229 236 243 250 257 264 271 278 285 292 299 306 313 320 327 334 341 348 355 362 369 376
71 136 143 150 157 165 172 179 186 193 200 208 215 222 229 236 243 250 257 265 272 279 286 293 301 308 315 322 329 338 343 351 358 365 372 379 386
72 140 147 154 162 169 177 184 191 199 206 213 221 228 235 242 250 258 265 272 279 287 294 302 309 316 324 331 338 346 353 361 368 375 383 390 397
73 144 151 159 166 174 182 189 197 204 212 219 227 235 242 250 257 265 272 280 288 295 302 310 318 325 333 340 348 355 363 371 378 386 393 401 408
74 148 155 163 171 179 186 194 202 210 218 225 233 241 249 256 264 272 280 287 295 303 311 319 326 334 342 350 358 365 373 381 389 396 404 412 420
75 152 160 168 176 184 192 200 208 216 224 232 240 248 256 264 272 279 287 295 303 311 319 327 335 343 351 359 367 375 383 391 399 407 415 423 431
76 156 164 172 180 189 197 205 213 221 230 238 246 254 263 271 279 287 295 304 312 320 328 336 344 353 361 369 377 385 394 402 410 418 426 435 443

Source: Adapted from Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. The Evidence Report. NIH Publication No. 98–4083: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; 1998.

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What if I think I look fine?

Even if you are considered overweight according to charts and measures, you may like the size and shape of your body and not want to lose weight. Your friends and family may think you look great too. But the health benefits of getting fit and eating well are clear. Once you decide to lose weight, your loved ones may want to join you on your journey to better health.

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Am I risking my health by being overweight?

Being overweight can be dangerous to your health. If you are overweight or obese, you are more likely to develop:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • certain forms of cancer

You can help lower your risk for many health problems by losing weight. Losing
5 to 10 percent of your body weight can help improve your health. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, losing 10 to 20 pounds may help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol level. Slow and steady weight loss of 1/2 to 2 pounds per week is the safest way to lose weight.

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How do I start to lose weight and improve my health?

 

 

You may find it helpful to participate in a weight-loss program. If so, talk with a health care professional about controlling your weight before you decide on a program. Doctors do not always address issues such as healthy eating, physical activity, and weight management during general office visits. It is important for you to start the discussion in order to get the information you need. Even if you feel uncomfortable talking about your weight with your doctor, remember that he or she is there to help you improve your health.

When you are ready to start toward a healthy weight and improve your health, try to:

  • Be more physically active.
  • Eat healthier.

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Be More Physically Active

 

 

Regular, moderate-intensity physical activity can be fun and help you feel great. When you share physical activity with your friends and family, it can also be a social event. Perhaps members of your church or place of worship would be interested in starting an exercise program at the place where you gather.

Make it your goal to try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. You may need to be physically active for more than 30 minutes a day to help you lose and keep off extra weight.

Note: If you are a man over age 40 or a woman over age 50, or if you have chronic health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, or obesity, talk to your doctor before starting a vigorous physical activity program.

Beat your physical activity roadblocks!

If you . . . Then try . . .

Do not have child care.

Sharing physical activities such as walking, biking, or playing tag with your child each day.

Do not have time or are too busy to be physically active.

Doing 10 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity three times a day, or putting more energy than normal into activities like housework, yard work, and playing with the kids.

Do not like or do not want to exercise.

Doing something you enjoy, like dancing to the radio or planning active outings with a friend, family member, or group.

Do not feel safe being physically active in your neighborhood.
Forming a group of people to walk, jog, or bike together, working out with videos in your home, or walking in a shopping mall.
 

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What is moderate-intensity physical activity?

 

 

Examples of moderate-intensity physical activity include:

  • Walking 2 miles in 30 minutes.
  • Bicycling 5 miles in 30 minutes.
  • Dancing fast for 30 minutes.

Sometimes starting and sticking with a physical activity program can be a challenge. Figuring out how to beat your physical activity roadblocks may make it easier for you to get and stay active.

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Tips for Active Women

You can be active and still keep your hairstyle. Talk to your hair stylist about a hair care routine and style that fit your active life.

You might try wearing:

  • a natural hairstyle
  • a style that can be wrapped or pulled back
  • a short haircut
  • braids, twists, or locs

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Tips for Active Men

Sometimes even the most active guys can be sidelined by lack of time, loss of motivation, and even injury. Here are some ways to keep men moving:

  • All types of activity count. In addition to “working out,” activities like chores, walking the dog, and playing outside with the kids add to your daily total.
  • When you do work out, think of it as three parts: the warm-up, the workout, and the cool-down. Warm up by moving your muscles for 5 to 10 minutes. For example, try jumping jacks or push-ups. Now you are ready to work out. Finally, cool down by walking slowly for 5 to 10 minutes. Do light stretching after your warm-up and cool-down routines. This may help keep you injury-free.
  • Try going to the gym with a friend. Or get some friends together for a pick-up basketball or soccer game. Working out with friends may help keep you motivated to stay active. Signing up for a charitable 5K walk or run may also keep you motivated and on track.

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Eat Healthier

When you begin to change your eating habits to improve your health, try to:

  • Make healthier food choices.
  • Eat just enough food for you.

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Make Healthier Food Choices

A healthy eating plan includes a variety of foods from every food group.

Every 5 years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) jointly release a publication on dietary guidelines.

The guidelines encourage Americans over 2 years of age to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods to promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Recommended items include fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, nuts, and whole grains such as brown rice and whole-wheat bread. The guidelines also recommend a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.

Making healthy food choices may seem difficult when you do not have time to cook or your family wants fast food. However, you and your family and friends can make healthier food choices. Try these tips:

  • Keeping a bowl of fruit on the table, bags of mini carrots in the refrigerator, and boxes of raisins in the cupboard are simple ways to eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Try not to keep a lot of sweets like cookies, candy, or soda in the house, car, or workplace. Too many sweets can crowd out healthier foods.
  • If you do go to a fast food restaurant, try a salad or a grilled chicken sandwich (not fried) instead of a burger.

Social gatherings can be tricky when you are trying to make healthy choices. Try these ideas:

  • Encourage members of your place of worship to bring healthier food options to events.
  • Watch the amount of alcohol you drink. Alcohol contains no nutrients but plenty of calories. If you want to drink alcohol, try a light beer or a low-calorie spritzer (small amount of wine added to club soda).

*For more information about healthy eating plans, see the "ChooseMyPlate" listing under the Additional Resources section at the end of this fact sheet.

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Do I need to drink milk?

 

 

A healthy eating plan includes a variety of foods that provide all of the nutrients the body needs. Milk is a good source of calcium. If you cannot digest lactose (the sugar found in milk), there are ways you can get calcium without drinking milk.

  • Drink low-fat or fat-free “lactose-reduced” milk, or calcium-fortified soy-based beverages.
  • Choose low-fat yogurt or reduced-fat hard cheeses like low-fat cheddar.
  • Eat dark leafy vegetables like collard greens or kale.
  • Eat canned fish with soft bones like salmon.

Eat Just Enough for You

A healthy eating plan calls for making healthy food choices and eating just enough for you. Larger amounts of food have more calories. Eating more calories than your body needs may lead to weight gain.

Learning about the serving sizes of foods can help you eat just enough for you. Try to measure your food for a few days. This can help you learn to recognize what one serving of a food, such as 1/2 cup of rice, looks like on your plate.

To lose weight, learn to eat fewer calories. Do this by selecting foods that are lower in fat and calories from each food group. For example, choose low-fat cheese and extra lean meat. Also, choose plenty of vegetables. They are lower in calories and fat than other foods and can help you feel full.

Sneaking In Fruits and Vegetables!

If you love... Try this...

Pizza

You can still enjoy the occasional pizza, but go for the more healthy option. Try a vegetable pizza with three or more vegetable toppings, such as bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms.

Fast Food Hamburgers

Order a child-size hamburger meal. If that does not satisfy you, order a burger without the sauce and share the fries with a friend.

Cereal for Breakfast

Add some fresh fruits like strawberries, blueberries, or bananas to your cereal. You will add some sweetness to your breakfast while sneaking in a serving of fruit.

French Fries

Try mashed potatoes made with fat-free milk, a baked potato topped with a vegetable or fruit salsa, or a salad.

Dessert

Have a plate of fresh fruit with low-fat or fat-free cream. The natural sweetness from the fruit might satisfy your cravings for something sweet.

 

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Keeping Your New Habits

The path to improving your eating and regular physical activity habits is not easy. But do not give up. Remember, sensible eating and regular physical activity, followed over time, are key to a healthy body, mind, and spirit.

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Additional Reading From the Weight-control Information Network

Just Enough for You: About Food Portions. August 2006. Available at http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/just_enough.htm.

Walking…A Step in the Right Direction. March 2007. Available at http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/walking.htm.

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Additional Resources

ChooseMyPlate. More information and interactive tools on healthy eating and physical activity are available on this website. Available at http://www.choosemyplate.gov.

National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP). Publications from NDEP provide information about diabetes and obesity prevention and control. Learn more at http://www.yourdiabetesinfo.org.

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Weight-control Information Network

1 WIN Way
Bethesda, MD 20892–3665
Phone: 202–828–1025
Toll-free number: 1–877–946–4627
Fax: 202–828–1028
Email: win@info.niddk.nih.gov
Internet: http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov

The Weight-control Information Network (WIN) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of the National Institutes of Health, which is the Federal Government’s lead agency responsible for biomedical research on nutrition and obesity. Authorized by Congress (Public Law 103–43), WIN provides the general public, health professionals, the media, and Congress with up-to-date, science-based health information on weight control, obesity, physical activity, and related nutritional issues.

Publications produced by WIN are reviewed by both NIDDK scientists and outside experts. This publication was also reviewed by Shiriki Kumanyika, Ph.D., M.P.H., Professor of Epidemiology and Associate Dean for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and Gladys Gary Vaughn, Ph.D., National Program Leader, Cooperative Research, Education, and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This publication is not copyrighted. WIN encourages users of this brochure to duplicate and distribute as many copies as desired.

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
National Institutes of Health

NIH Publication No. 08–3494
Reprinted November 2008


To contact WIN, call toll free 1–877–946–4627; fax: 202–828–1028; email: win@info.niddk.nih.gov;
or write Weight-control Information Network, 1 WIN Way, Bethesda, MD 20892–3665.

Last Modified: November 16, 2012

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