women learning to serve their own health needs
ATLANTA – It’s 10:29 Wednesday morning as Leslie Magnum walks into the aerobics room at Quality Living Services (QLS) senior center and issues a spirited directive to nearly 100 budding fitness enthusiasts, mostly women.
“Alright everybody,” the competitive bodybuilder and Dr. Oz fitness challenge winner yells, “let’s get it started.”
As Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” blares background music, class members begin stretching and marching to the beat as Magnum calls out the 10-count.
The kicking, punching, sweating and grunting are all part of a grand design to get women focused on better health and fitness – frequently a challenge for a gender that historically places the needs of family and loved ones before their own.
And as the nation commemorates National Minority Health Month, studies show that women still have a long way to go to serve their own health needs.
Black women still suffer from higher death rates from breast cancer, heart disease and diabetes. In fact, black women have the highest overall incidence of diabetes.
And according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, the South is known as the “Diabetes Belt” because the rate of the disease is nearly 12 percent, compared to less than nine percent for the rest of the country.
It is such statistics that fitness class member Linda Kelley is looking to overcome.
“When we first moved to Atlanta, I was thrown off of my fitness routine and then I started eating this good Southern food,” said Kelley, a 60-something who moved to Atlanta from Michigan.“Then I couldn’t find a gym that fit me. So I was glad when I found out about Leslie’s class.
“I love coming here because of the camaraderie and the older women who in their 80s and 90s who inspire me,” she adds.
Kelley is trying to lose weight and lower her cholesterol. But she says she’s happy she doesn’t have diabetes or high blood pressure, diseases that run in her family.
That’s because she prioritizes her health – something many black women find it hard to do as they take care of everyone else in the family but themselves.
Magnum says that’s a big mistake.
“Black women must prioritize their own health because they won’t be any good to take care of anyone else,”he said. “And they need to make it a family affair and inspire those they are taking care of to also get fit.”
Magnum says diabetes is a particularly huge problem for women in metro Atlanta – a fact the CDC study confirms, especially in Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett and Henry counties.
In fact, Magnum says the 30331 zip code – where QLS is located – has some of the highest diabetes numbers for Fulton County.
And he agrees with the CDC, in that part of the reason is because of obesity from the way southerners cook and eat.
“Eating soul food is passed down from generation to generation. But it needs to change because it’s killing us,” Magnum says. “It’s keeping us in the hospital and on medications and keeping us from growing as a strong community.”