Black Men: Get Fit, Stay Alive

By Rory Sharrock

The regimen of eating balanced meals with foods high in nutritional value, along with doing some type of physical activity, are the biggest and most underrated cost-cutters to one’s personal budget. These rituals reduce funds spent on co-pays from trips to the doctor, medication and prolonged treatment. Nevertheless, healthy habits are often overlooked in the name of long working hours, family responsibilities and time management.

According to a study conducted in 2014 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year, Americans suffer more than 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes. The CDC also confirmed that nearly 44 percent of African-American men (48 percent of African-American women) have some form of cardiovascular disease.

These troubling statistics, combined with African Americans’ propensity for being diagnosed with hypertension, are filling the hospitals, clinics, and in some cases, cemeteries at an alarming rate.

While these unfortunate medical ailments are a scarlet letter on the community, there are aggressive steps being taken by a large segment of the population to offset this murderous trend.

One of the combatants in this fight for survival is Black Men Run. The organization, which is gaining momentum and saving lives with every mile logged, is the biggest running association for black males in the city.

The grassroots fitness group, which began in 2013, has blossomed from a small following to a national phenomenon in just two years with chapters spread out in 51 cities.

The Atlanta sect hits the pavement in a large quantity with bi-weekly runs through scenic roadways. Weather permitting, on Mondays, the group gathers for a health run through Piedmont Park. On Wednesdays of the alternate week, the team laces up their shoes and plugs in their ear buds at Road Runner Sports on Roswell Road in Buckhead.

During these sessions, the participating men are engulfed in a positive atmosphere where they network, share stories of personal triumph and provide encouragement for attaining maximum health.

“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer for black men. Through the culture of running, we feel this is preventable,” says Jason Russell, founder of Black Men Run. “This is a healthy brotherhood. We get guys running in a safe place where they won’t be judged. We get them around positive males and off the couch.”

Along with being a catalyst for fitness amongst African-American males, Black Men Run is also a viable entity that generates revenue through a host of products sold online fed into by the high volume of traffic on its website, and an active presence on various social media outlets.

“We’re very active in social media. We’ve embraced social media and social media has embraced us,” says Russell. “We built the website, started tweeting and it spiraled from there. Our main revenue stream is merchandise. We sell a fair amount of shirts, socks and medal racks to hang awards. We have our own smartphone app. On the app, we have our leaderboard to rank runners. You can track miles, pace, splits and calories. It streams five HBCU radio stations (Clark Atlanta University, Savannah State University, Tennessee State University, Alabama A&M University and Morgan State University), the HBCU sports broadcasts from the Heritage Sports Radio Network and it has custom DJ mixes. There are also customized training videos on the app.”

Along with running and/or jogging, weight lifting is another sure fire way to upgrade the quality of one’s health.

Pumping iron and working out on the treadmill or elliptical machine are great ways to get in shape. Unfortunately, just like with running, the obstacles of time management, lack of knowledge and most importantly, pride has hindered some men from taking the necessary steps to exercise on a regular basis.

“Pride is the main thing. For some, the gym can be intimidating. They may not understand how the equipment works. They think a trainer will be there screaming and trying to belittle you and making you feel you’re not tough enough. People say time, but once we break through the layers, they tell us it is pride,” says personal trainer Laquisha Smith, who alongside with her husband, Kariim, are co-owners of Body by Kariim Fitness. “A lot of people blame it on time. You’ll make time for things that are important. Lack of knowledge is also a factor. However, it’s starting to pick up and black men are getting into it now.”

Based in Northwest Atlanta, Body by Kariim Fitness has been in business for six years helping clients with a variety of customized goals including weight loss, increasing muscle tone and injury rehab to strengthen the afflicted area. To coincide with the arranged workouts, Body by Kariim helps people by creating smart meal plans to keep individuals on a track for success.

While women are the chief patrons of their services, the number of men enrolling in their program is reaching record levels. When they first began, 3 percent of their clients were men. Now, those numbers have almost leveled off with a 60-40 ratio.

The demographics of black men in their program ranges from 35-55 years old. This diverse group of men have reached a level of maturity and due to different ailments, want to eradicate any symptoms which would impede their quality of life.

“When you’re young, you don’t look at health being an issue. When you’re young, you sometimes think you’re invincible. As you get older, and things start to happen, you realize it’s time to do something. When you have aches and pains or high blood pressure, people realize that working out plays a big part in helping you feel better,” says Smith.

On the surface, the gym stands as the ideal place to get in shape. However, there are several ways men can get fit without having any type of membership. Among the tips Body by Kariim Fitness suggests to do if a person can’t get to a gym are parking far away from your store or church destinations and walking to the door, taking the stairs instead of riding an elevator, walking up/down an escalator, jog to the mailbox, playing basketball or getting in a round of golf.

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