Walking is known to be a healthful activity for anyone. But a number of studies have been conducted specifically with African-Americans.
Type 2 Diabetes
Released just today is a study by Boston University (1) which showed that the incidence of type 2 diabetes can be reduced in African-American women by brisk walking, and watching less TV. 20.6 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, and a significant percentage of those are African-American women.
Walking briskly for five or more hours per week reduced the risk of developing diabetes, as opposed to no walking. As part of the same study the time spent watching television was also compiled. Those who watched the most TV were most inclined to develop diabetes whether they were active or not.
“Our results confirm that vigorous activity is protective against type 2 diabetes in African-American women,” said study author Julie Palmer, a professor of epidemiology at the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University. “A key public health finding is that brisk walking reduced risk. That is important because many women don’t have the time or place to engage in “vigorous” physical activity, but most women can find time to walk,” added Palmer.
This study used data collected through questionnaires in the Black Women’s Health Study, (an ongoing prospective follow-up study of African-American women from across the U.S.).
A church-based walking program for African-American women showed lowered blood pressures for those who participated. The group began with 10 minutes of stretches, followed by 30-60 minutes of walking, three times a week. Over four weeks the intensity and duration of the exercise was increased. Participants learned to monitor their own heart rates and track progress, increasing their personal involvement.
As a group there were significant decreases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressures.
The program was designed and conducted by Reginald B. O’Hara, M.Sc, and reported in the September-October 2004 issue of ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal (2).
African-American women have a lower rate of survival from breast cancer than Caucasian women. But regular exercise in the form of walking has been found to improve a woman’s chances of survival.(3) A 2005 study by Virginia Commonwealth University found that an 8-week program of walking improved African-American women’s body mass index and blood pressure, reduced body circumference and weight, and resulted in improved attitudes toward exercise. However, the positive attitude toward exercise did not last longer than three months.(4)
Attitudes Toward Walking
Interestingly, another study, by Florida State University, compared two African-American neighborhoods, the incidence of obesity, and the amount of walking done in each.
They found that people in the poorer, denser neighborhood actually walked more, probably because they had few options. People in the better neighborhood, who actually had more of a “built environment” (parks, trails, etc) walked less. Both neighborhoods had high rates of obesity. (5)
Other surveys and studies suggest that African-Americans are less likely to consider walking or hiking as a form of recreation or exercise. (6, 7, 8) These attitudes may hinder them in efforts to improve their overall health.
I personally am not a big fan of separating out a particular group to discuss why they do or don’t do something. Yet, as an avid hiker and fan of everyday walking, I am disturbed that a huge segment of the population spurns this healthy activity. Lots of these sedentary people are white. But research does suggest that even more people of color are uninterested in such pursuits. And a simple glance around most any meeting or convention of walkers and hikers will bear this out without an expensive study.
This past September I had the privilege of attending a seminar on this topic. Several African-American speakers addressed this very issue. One of the points made was that people of color simply don’t picture themselves in outdoor recreational or career settings.
This article has not been leading up to promotion of a book. Nevertheless reading “Black and Brown Faces in Americas Wild Places,” by Dudley Edmondson would be a great way start to change this perception. (9) Edmondson has interviewed nine men and women of color who are proponents of outdoor activities. Most of them have made such interests their lifelong career.
Wouldn’t it be great if we’d all just take a few more walks, watched the grasshoppers, bluebirds, sunflowers, and squirrels, and stopped looking at people’s skin?