We all know working up a sweat is a must for keeping our bodies and minds in top form. From fending off illnesses to supercharging our brainpower, exercise does it all. But here’s the tricky part: When it comes to hitting those health goals, Black folks are facing more hurdles and consistently coming up short compared to other racial and ethnic groups.
According to the national guidelines set by the CDC, adults should complete 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity weekly — or 30 minutes a day for five days.
Data released by the CDC revealed that from 2017 to 2022, 30% of Black adults completed no physical activity or exercise outside of work over the span of a month, compared to 25.3% of adults overall.
The lack of movement can’t be attributed to a motivation shortfall alone, a challenge many people face when fulfilling an exercise regimen. A number of unique challenges rooted in systemic racism are partly to blame.
Violence Creates a Fear of Going Outside
Sometimes, Black and low-income neighborhoods aren’t safe enough for a jog or a day at the park.
Christopher Ross, a 53-year-old husband and father, was fatally shot in the head by a stray bullet while playing handball. His death on Aug. 9, 2020, occurred one month after another man was killed on the same court.
Tiffany Fletcher, a 41-year-old woman, was caught in the crossfire while sitting outside of a recreation center on Sept. 10, 2022. The mother of three was rushed to the hospital and died there hours later.
Both of these incidents occurred in predominately-Black neighborhoods: Crown Heights in Brooklyn, New York, and Mill Creek in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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People impacted directly or indirectly by gun violence may develop anxiety, depression, or PTSD — mental illnesses that can keep a person indoors and away from others.
However, exercising while Black is no easier for folks who live in predominantly-white neighborhoods.
That was the case for Ahmaud Aburey, a 25-year-old who was murdered by three white men while running near his Brunswick, Georgia, home in 2020.
The Secret to Upping Physical Activity Indoors
On top of the threat of neighborhood violence, paying for exclusive fitness memberships can be expensive. The average monthly gym membership runs anywhere from $38 to $75 depending on the state, according to Statista.
Research has found gym and recreation fees to be an added barrier for Black folks who simply can’t afford them.
For the community, who is over two times more likely to live in poverty than white Americans, there is hope.
Dr. Kamilah Stevenson, a health coach, counselor, and pastor, has two words for people who want better overall health on a budget: just move.
“People will get greater results if they never exercised, but they were in constant movement throughout the day,” she says.
Living a sedentary lifestyle — sitting or lying down for six or more hours a day — can lead to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses.
“We’re in a convenience age where people are delivering our groceries to us while we’re sitting up watching Netflix. The real issue is that people are not moving as much as they used to,” Stevenson says. “Think about when the world got shut down. Everybody’s remote. Nobody’s going anywhere. Nobody’s active.”
But there are simple ways to be active indoors. She suggests going up and down the stairs (the same as you would on a stairmaster at the gym) or cleaning around the house. At minimum, she says “stand up every 20 to 30 minutes. Move around. Get some blood flowing.”
For folks who decide to take on an exercise regimen, she raves of the mental health benefits.
“Exercise is one of those things that can help you destress, and it can help you manage stress.”
Jumping Rope Works for Adults Too
Bernadette Henry, 44, can attest to the mental aid physical activity offers. She was 19-years-old when she finally decided to take jump roping seriously.
Under the instruction of world class boxers, Michael Olajide Jr. and the late Stephan Johnson, she learned to jump to music.
That’s when her health started to shift.
“A year later, I noticed that I had lost so much weight. Like I said, that was not the goal,” the New Yorker says.
But she thought the change was cool — cool enough to keep at the sport for decades and become a master jump rope instructor.
“I’ll jump rope anywhere, anytime,” she says just a week after jumping rope with a friend in Times Square.
Henry can be seen on social media jumping with a smile to all types of music: gospel, reggaeton, and more. While she’s lowered her blood pressure, she says the “mental and emotional benefits of jumping are amazing.”
“Where do I go to release my stress?…I’m going to turn on music. We’re going to get the jump rope. We’re going to forget everything that’s going on and focus on this,” she says.
Through her classes and recently released book, she encourages folks in any neighborhood to grab a rope and hop into an affordable, healthy lifestyle.
The one-time investment in a jump rope costs around $5-10 for a regular, adult-sized rope. Weighted ropes are available for a few extra bucks.
“That’s actually one of the greatest benefits of jumping rope,” Henry says about the sport’s affordability. “You have this little piece of material, this rope that you can take anywhere, anytime. Depending on where you live, you can do it inside the house or the apartment or your garage.”
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