Almost 40 percent of African-Americans suffer from extreme cases of hypertension, the highest percentage of any racial group in the United States, according to a recent study conducted by Dr. Michael D. Brown, an associate professor of kinesiology in the College of Health Professions. Categorized in two stages based on blood pressure
measurements, hypertension develops when abnormally high levels of blood pressure rise and can quickly lead to more severe health problems such as stroke, heart failure and cardiovascular disease.
“For African Americans in particular, it’s even a more critical issue since there is a greater chance,” said Brown, who earned his Ph.D. in exercise physiology from the University of Maryland. “Because hypertension can start very early, I think to be more aware of it is important because the sooner you can get it diagnosed
and treated, the more lives you save.”
While the reasons African-Americans are more susceptible to hypertension than any other race and its exact causes are still unknown, various factors, such as genetics, environment and habitual activities can contribute to its development. Moreover, symptoms for hypertension are minimal to none, making the condition increasingly dangerous because the heart has to work harder in order to pump blood throughout the entire body.
“I have found that hypertension is linked to obesity as well as a few other factors such as stress, genetics, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle,” said Alisha Rodriquez, an exercise physiologist at Montgomery Hospital Medical Center.
“African-Americans, especially women who are overweight, are more likely to have hypertension and this could be due to the types and quantities of foods that are in the African-American diet.
“Anyone can avoid hypertension by lowering the amount of triglycerides and eating a balanced diet, exercising and limiting the amount of stress,” she said.
The alarming rate in which hypertension affects blacks is what motivated Brown to launch Fit for Life, an extensive study that will further inspect why blacks are at a greater risk to develop hypertension. He will collaborate with fellow staff members, students, professors and doctors from other institutions to determine the best and most efficient way to minimize high blood pressure in hypertensives.
“This study is designed to get African-Americans who have hypertension in a supervised study where we look at how exercise affects their blood pressure and the things that underline blood pressure,” Brown said. “It’s really trying to get at individualized treatment.”
Fit for Life is funded by a $3.5 million grant from the National Blood, Heart and Lung Institute, a subdivision of the National Institute of Health, and will allow Brown to study exactly how much genetics can contribute to the development of hypertension over the next five years.
“Dr. Brown’s research is based on the idea of exercise as preventative medicine,” said Katie Sturgeon, a third -year doctoral student and research assistant in Fit for Life.
“We’re starting to collect scientific evidence about how exercise accomplishes this just as one would look at a new drug for hypertension.”
By studying the genotypes in each individual, Brown will determine how pairing specific exercise routines with a particular genotype can minimize the dangers that hypertension causes by incorporating consistent aerobic exercise, heart-healthy diets, weight monitoring and heart function measurements into the regular routine of the hypertensive being studied.
“I hope to learn a lot about how the blood vessels change and behave after the exercise,” he said. “We also hope to link the information from the hypertensives and ourselves to really understand what the roles of our blood vessels are in hypertension and how they help lower blood pressure after the exercise.”
Recruitment for the Fit for Life study will begin in September. Advertisements and local community blood pressure screenings will be some of the ways Brown hopes to involve Temple faculty and students in the recruitment process. Three levels of screening will be conducted including blood withdrawals, four-week diet stabilization and six months of exercise training.
“This is really an exciting field to be involved with as we’re finally seeing a greater push in the mainstream to pursue a healthier lifestyle,” said Sturgeon, who will be involved in taking screening measurements and running scientific experiments in the lab. “Not only is the [Fit for Life] study large in subject number, but also is very comprehensive in what the subjects will go through.”
The American Heart Association recommends that you get your blood pressure checked once every two years by a healthcare professional. However, if you have a history of hypertension in your family, you should get it checked at least once a year in order to avoid the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Maya Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org