American Heart Month: How Heart-Healthy Habits Changed my Life

American Heart Month: How Heart-Healthy Habits Changed my Life

Almetria Turner is a Memphis-based wellness coach, full-spectrum birth, postpartum and end of life doula, recipe developer, marathoner, registered yoga teacher, certified fitness instructor, RRCA/USATF certified running coach, race director, public speaker and ROAD iD Ambassador. Her 170+ lbs weight loss and running journey has been featured on The Today Show, Women's Running Magazine, The Doctor Oz Show, Redbook Magazine, The Huffington Post and many more.

Each February, we celebrate and recognize heart month, the spirit of love on Valentine's Day, and Black History Month. Twenty eight days filled with love, matters of the heart, unknown facts and achievements of African Americans as well as recognizing the signs and symptoms of the number one silent killer amongst women: Heart disease.

As an African American woman who overcame morbid obesity, diabetes and hypertension by changing my overall lifestyle, I'm well aware of the consequences of being sedentary and in bad health.

I'll never forget the scare that I had during the Summer of 2010. My primary care physician referred me to three different specialists including a cardiologist, a pulmonary specialist and an endocrinologist.

The cardiologist said I had a minuscule amount of fluid around my heart, but it shouldn't be of grave concern. The pulmonary specialist saw a few nodules in my lungs, but thank goodness I didn't have sleep apnea or some type of lung disease. The endocrinologist thought I might have had Crohn's disease and saw a tumor on my adrenal gland, but luckily I was disease free. The tumor he found was a benign fatty tissue that had attached itself to my organs because I was so overweight, it didn't have any place to go.

This was a serious wake-up call for me. I was only 36 years old at the time, extremely overweight, and was prescribed high blood pressure and diabetes medicine by my doctor. I knew it was high-time for me to get moving and eating better in order to achieve a healthier weight because I wanted to live and not die. I didn't want to pop pills for the rest of my life nor face the debilitating consequences of living with two chronic illnesses.

According to the American Heart Association, 1 in 3 women die each year from heart disease and stroke, but most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented with education, healthy lifestyle changes and movement. Let's take a look at some of the facts from AHA:

  • Heart disease and stroke can occur in women at any age due to personal risk factors, family history and life events such as stress, pregnancy, and menopause. Menopause doesn't cause cardiovascular disease, but midlife health changes can occur which cause for some concern.
  • 51.9% of cardiovascular deaths are in women and out of all women, 57.6% African American females have hypertension— more than any other race or ethnicity.
  • Nausea, unexplained fatigue, cold sweat, lightheadedness or dizziness, heavy chest pain or discomfort, arm pain, and shortness of breath are the signs and symptoms of a heart attack in women.
  • Cardiovascular disease is the number 1 killer of new moms and over a third of maternal deaths. African American women have the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the country.
  • 10-20% of women will have a health issue relating to pregnancy such as preeclampsia, high blood pressure and gestational diabetes which increases the risk of her developing cardiovascular disease later in life.

With these growing statistics and numbers, especially amongst African American women, I knew I had to make a change because I too had become a statistic. Once it reality hit me, I changed my mindset towards food and exercise.

I lost the weight, started exercising, running as well as doing daily yoga and meditation to help with life's frustrations and everyday stress.

I've been medication-free for over 9 years and knew I wanted to help others by becoming certified in several exercise modalities, a running coach, community nutrition educator, a registered yoga teacher, a lifestyle and wellness coach, and a birth, postpartum and end of life doula.

Representation matters in these spaces because African American women and women in general are dying at alarming rates due to poor health, socio-economic and health disparities, food insecurities, lack of transportation and more.

The AHA recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week along with the proper amount of rest, sleep, hydration and nutrition.

Walking and running is great exercise for your heart because it helps lower your resting heart rate, maintain a healthy heart and it reduces your risk of developing obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer.

Different forms of yoga improves heart and mental health, strength, balance, flexibility and your quality of life. It also helps reduce inflammation, stress, depression and anxiety.

You don't have to be Gumby, a certain size, a certain body type or weight; extremely fast or seeking to run a marathon in order to walk, run or do yoga. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy 75-150 minutes or more per week to get your heart rate up and you moving.

While you're at it, don't forget to wear your ROAD iD out of safety and medical concern because it can help first responders identify and treat you with the appropriate type of care. Time is of the essence when trying to save your life.
Back in 2019, I had a health scare during the St. Jude Marathon where my ROAD iD helped the paramedics identify me and locate my contact information as I was being treated for hypothermia and extreme dehydration. I’m so thankful I was wearing it that day.

I'm glad that I finally loved myself enough to know I was worth it by tending to the matters of my heart, health and using movement as medicine. I hope this February, American Heart Month, and for the rest of the year, you will love yourself enough if not more to take care of you on a daily basis from the inside out. Don’t ignore the signs and be sure to get your yearly physical and checkup. The world needs your light.

Follow Almetria on Facebook/Instagram @Fitandfinallyfree + @rootsandriverwellness and her websites and