From the Black Women’s Health Imperative

February is Heart Health Month for all Americans, but for Black women, the stakes are especially high.

According to the American Heart Association, almost half of all Black women over 20 years old have some type of heart disease, and many don’t know it.

Clogged arteries (specifically the blood vessels around the heart or going to the arms or legs), high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, prediabetes or diabetes, and obesity can all put you at risk for heart disease.

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of both death and disability in women in the United States. As a Black woman, you may have an even higher chance of dying from heart disease — and at a younger age.

The Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI) reached out to Jennifer Mieres, MD, a cardiologist. She’s one of the leading experts on Black women and heart health.

She’s also the author of “Heart Smart for Women: Six S.T.E.P.S. in Six Weeks to Heart-Healthy Living,” which gives women some tips about what we can do to reduce our risks.

According to the American Heart Association, 80% of heart disease and strokes in women are preventable if actions are taken.

Dr. Mieres says that “one of the first steps Black women need to take is understanding that our health is our most valuable asset.” She encourages women to work with their doctors and to be a member of their own healthcare team.

The leading heart health expert explains that “a commitment to making consistent healthy lifestyle changes can go a long way.”

According to the American Heart Association, more than 50% of all African Americans have high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.

Dr. Mieres urges women to know their blood pressure numbers as a first step and to work with their doctor to come up with a management plan. “If you are on medication, in some people, lifestyle changes can get you off meds,” she says.

Dr. Mieres also says that being at a heavier weight and not getting much physical activity can raise your risk for heart disease. “Work to take inches off your waist, making sure that your midsection is no greater than 35 inches,” she advises.   

Stress is incredibly hard on the body and the mind.

Dr. Mieres adds that women exposed to stress experience a “fight or flight” response that can cause chronic high blood pressure and other health issues. “These changes can make the blood vessels prone to adverse effects and elevated cortisol,” she says.

Here are a few heart-healthy tips from Dr. Mieres:

  • Take regular pauses. Try using a relaxation app and practicing breathing exercises.
  • Get into yoga.
  • Move your body. Walking as little as 15 minutes can help to reduce stress.
  • Listen to some good music.
  • Don’t forget to laugh. Just 10 minutes of laughter can help.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.
  • Clean up your diet by adding colorful fruits and vegetables and stay away from fatty foods and sugars.
  • Stop smoking. According to the American Heart Association, smoking doubles the risk for heart disease in African Americans.

The Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI) is the first nonprofit organization founded by Black women to protect and advance the health and well-being of Black women and girls. Learn more about BWHI by going to