This may be the best time in history to be a Black woman. In celebration of our anniversary month, we’ve singled out 48 actions that can lead us to health and happiness.
1-4. SAY CHEESE.
A nice smile makes a great first impression and an even better selfie. It also helps keep you alive. Taking care of your teeth and gums is vital to health. Research shows that heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke can be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause. To improve your oral health, brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss daily, replace your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if bristles are frayed (add a quarterly reminder on your calendar) and schedule dental checkups and cleanings twice a year.
A good giggle can help improve your immune system, relieve pain, alleviate stress and boost your mood. So laugh out loud while watching Girls Trip on DVD for the umpteenth time or a comedy show starring a Black woman (hey, Amanda Seales).
6. SET IT DOWN.
The Good Book says to “write the vision and make it plain.” To wake up to a life that brings you joy is to get clear on what you desire and where you are headed. Commit to writing 100 goals—big and small—that you want to achieve, and develop your life plan, starting with your vision for the next year and the decade to come. Be sure to keep track in a planner or journal. We are crushing on Karlyn Percil’s Success Planner.
7. KNOW YOUR NUMBERS.
Staying happy means staying healthy. Heart disease remains the number one killer of women in the U.S. To lessen your risk, the American Heart Association recommends you monitor these five key areas: Total cholesterol, HDL (the good cholesterol), Blood pressure, Blood sugar, and Body mass index (BMI).
8. LEARN THE SIGNS.
Heart attack symptoms in women can present differently than in men. While chest pain and discomfort are the most common warnings for both sexes, women are more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and back or jaw pain. If you have any of these signs, call 9-1-1 and get to the nearest hospital right away.
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9. PRESERVE YOUR HISTORY
Your life story is being written every day. Schedule time to recap your journey with photos, video, and journaling, and end each month with a report card of highs, lows, and lessons learned.
10. Then look to your relatives this summer to capture your lineage and record an oral history for generations to come. Knowing your family’s health past can also preserve your future.
11. TURN YOUR PAIN INTO PURPOSE
Sometimes it’s the stories we hold closest that have the most power. The Reverend Dr. LaKeesha Walrond flipped her experience of childhood sexual abuse into a children’s book series, Let’s Talk About It. The first book, My Body Is Special, helps parents and children discuss safety and boundaries. “When you share your story, the strength, and courage that it took for you to survive and thrive become a possibility for others,” says Walrond, executive pastor of First Corinthian Baptist Church in New York City, where she serves alongside her husband, Michael. To empower sexual abuse survivors, she offers several steps:
12. RECOGNIZE AND REMIND YOURSELF THAT IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT
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13. Release your shame.
14. Don’t be afraid to tell your story and connect with a community and other survivors.
15. SEE YOUR BODY AS A TEMPLE
“There’s no greater relationship than the one you can have with your body,” shares certified personal trainer Nicole Hill Orisich, 46. “Be kind to it and give your body a chance to show you just how powerful it is.” After transforming hers, the former life coach is committed to helping women of a certain age reach their fitness goals. “I didn’t start going to the gym consistently until I was in my late thirties. And when I did, the cardio machines were the only equipment I used.” One day Orisich was watching TV and saw a woman her age who had reshaped her body radically through weight training. “I soon learned how vital weight training was for increasing bone density, and how much a woman could strengthen her physique if she knew how.” She is excited to open Pretty Hard Body, a boutique weight-training studio in Harlem, this summer and dispel the myth that pumping iron is just for men.
16. PULL YOURSELF UP
Can’t make it to the gym on the regular? Consider getting a pull-up bar for your home and adding it your routine.
17. LEVERAGE THE LEGACY OF YOUR LOVED ONES.
For a daughter, nothing quite compares to a father’s love. And when Kimberly Wilson lost her dad, 74, to bladder cancer, it was life-changing. “Not being able to talk, joke, hug or seek advice from him was devastating. Being a woman without her father felt foreign to me,” says Wilson. The loss prompted Wilson, a vice-president at Disney and ESPN Media Networks, to work with her mother and sister to create the Chicago-based Dream a Dream (D.A.D.) Foundation. The organization serves youth 7 to 18 years old in the areas of sports, music and entrepreneurship. “We were raised to give back, so this foundation is a continuation and amplification of [my dad and] that lesson,” says Wilson. Channeling grief to help others ensures those we love live on.
18. ASK YOURSELF THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
It was a few days before my birthday when I prayed out loud just in case God had not heard my request the 220 other times or had forgotten just how old I was: I’m going to be 40. I’d like to be happily married, but in case you haven’t noticed, I don’t even have a good prospect. And I’m still hoping to be a mom, but the doctor basically told me that though I look young, my eggs are getting old, so if you could fix this situation soon, I’d be so happy. Almost as soon as the last sentence was uttered, I sensed a response: Valorie, there’s nothing to fix. I stood dumbfounded. Although my life was good, I’d convinced myself I could not truly be happy until every last dream was fulfilled, including my vision of a happy marriage and motherhood. It was a vision I could not shake. But a profound shift happened that morning. The message was this:
19. Suddenly, I felt compelled to find my happy. As a life coach, I know the power of asking the right questions. Below are a few of the ones that helped me and can help you claim more of your own joy.
20. AM I WILLING TO RISK DISAPPOINTMENT?
Happiness is not the absence of negative emotion. To pursue the things that bring joy—love, purpose, forgiveness—you must often deal with fear, disappointment or insecurity. An authentic life is found on the other side of your discomfort. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Set a goal that excites you, even if it scares you.
21. WHO COULD I BECOME IF FEAR DIDN’T STOP ME?
Sometimes the best question to answer is the one that causes you the most fear. Imagine your worst fear and picture yourself making it through. It is a powerful mental exercise to choose who you will be in the face of your fears.
22. WHAT CAN I DO TO BE A LITTLE BIT BRAVER TODAY?
The most successful women are not fearless. They are courageous. And it’s not just the big, bold moves. It’s the little ones—like speaking up in a meeting or saying no to a request because you are already overscheduled. Each day, do something that requires you to be a little bit braver, and with each act, you’ll find yourself just a little bit happier.
23. WHICH BOUNDARY IS IT TIME TO SET?
When a behavior or situation is not okay with you, you have a decision to make: Request a change or make a change. Both take clarity and courage.
24. LOOKING BACK TEN YEARS FROM NOW, WHAT WILL I WISH I HAD DONE?
Regret drains your happiness. Whether a relationship or career decision, a health or financial choice, what would your future self-wish you had done in this season of your life? Whatever your answer, do that.
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25. LET THE VISION UNFOLD
I stopped holding my happiness hostage to my circumstances and decided to be happy right then. It was freeing. And amazingly, the vision I’d hoped for, the one that included a happy marriage and motherhood, began to unfold not as the source of my happiness but as a by-product of it. I reconnected with a high school classmate who saw one of my book posters in the Atlanta airport. He was a divorced dad with two daughters who had the names I had hoped to call my kids. Today we’re married and have adopted a son, Alexander, together to round out our family.
26. GET YOUR REST
We know you’re a badass. But taking time to relax and recharge your batteries is necessary. Respite can come in the form of 27. turning off your phone and tuning out social media, 28. soaking in a hot bath with salt and lavender oil or taking a power nap. Meditation is also effective. Research has shown that 29. setting time aside to disengage, sit in silence and take a mental break improves the “folding” of the cortex and boosts our ability to process information.
29. Research has shown that setting time aside to disengage, sit in silence and take a mental break improves the “folding” of the cortex and boosts our ability to process information.
30. STAY VIGILANT ABOUT YOUR HEALTH
African-Americans have the highest colorectal (colon) cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the United States. Anthea Noel, R.N., popularly known as Nurse Noel, discovered she had colorectal cancer when she was 25. “Hemorrhoids were the catalyst that urged me to seek help. The pathology report revealed a carcinoma, and I was devastated,” she says. Fortunately, in Noel’s case, the cancer was detected early, with zero chance of returning. In addition to family history, modifiable lifestyle factors like smoking, heavy drinking and a diet high in red and processed meats also increase your risk. Now 43, Nurse Noel is a vegetarian and committed to helping others extend their lives. She advises sisters to heed the symptoms of the illness she beat: persistent abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, a change in bowel habits or bloating. “Early detection saves lives and turns tragedy into triumph,” she says.
31. HONOR YOUR YONI
Dr. Every Woman will see you now. Wendy Goodall McDonald, M.D., is committed to every Black woman owning the power of your sexuality. Here are the top habits offered by this ob-gyn at Women’s Health Consulting in Chicago and author of It Smells Just Like Popcorn: The Modern Woman’s A to V Guide to Her Vagina and Beyond.
32. KEEP HER CLEAN
It’s okay to cleanse and wash the outside skin daily, however, douching or internally cleansing can throw off the natural pH balance. Disrupting that balance can increase the vagina’s susceptibility—rather than resistance—to infections.
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To avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy, make sure your partner uses a condom every time you have sex.
34. CHERISH HER
Vaginal abnormalities and reproductive cancers can be detected with regular checkups. So see your gynecologist at least once a year for an annual exam, which includes a periodic Pap test to detect cervical cancer, a pelvic exam to look for fibroids or masses on the ovaries and screening for STDs.
35. EXPLORE YOUR BEAUTIFUL BODY
Don’t be ashamed to pleasure yourself and find your own G-spot. Just remember to keep your hands and your sex toys clean. I once had a patient who did not discover her clitoris until she was in her mid-forties. It’s never too late to learn something new about you.
36. EXPAND YOUR POSSIBILITIES
To become different, sometimes you will have to do things differently. Earlier this year Diann Valentine guided five Black women through the Italian dating scene for the Bravo show To Rome for Love. “I’m not saying Black women can’t find love in the U.S.—they can, and I did. There are plenty of Black women who are finding love,” the celebrated wedding designer says. “But for those who aren’t, I wanted to empower them to know there are men around the world who find you incredibly attractive and want to be in your presence.”
37. RECLAIM YOUR CONFIDENCE
In 2010 Donna Washington was told her headaches were being caused by a benign brain tumor. During surgery to remove the mass, the doctor realized the growth was malignant and cancerous cells had entered the brain. After aggressive radiation, Washington was grateful to be in remission. Unfortunately, her hair follicles had not survived. “You look in the mirror and think, Who is this person?” she says. She tried an expensive hair treatment that didn’t work and settled for wigs that were difficult to clip. The pain was compounded by her young son asking, “When are you not going to be sick, and when is your hair growing back?” Then her New Jersey stylist told her about Bologna, Italy–based Cesare Ragazzi Laboratories, which provides custom hair replacement systems using 3D printing. A mold of her scalp was created, and a few months later she had a system that she could swim and sweat in, and keep on for months at a time. “Get dressed—I’m taking you to dinner,” is what her husband of 25 years, Andre, said when she got home that night in 2016 with her new hair in place. “I felt like myself again,” she says. “I kept trying until I found what worked for me.”
38. GET YOUR LIFE
While you can’t control risk factors for heart disease like age, race and family history, the American Heart Association reports even modest changes to your diet and lifestyle can improve your heart health and lower your risk by as much as 80 percent.
39. Drink alcohol in moderation
40. Minimize your sodium intake and make healthier food choices
41. For five days a week, get at least 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity such as brisk walking and stretching exercises.
42. DROP SOME BALLS
Taking off our capes is essential for the vitality of Black women after generations of being the backbone of this country and conditioned to sacrificing for others. Leadership expert Tiffany Dufu, author of Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less, realized she wasn’t superwoman when she found herself crying in the bathroom with breast milk on her shirt after having her first child and returning to her high-powered job. In the years since she’s learned to embrace life’s mess and shares her strategy in her book. In the Dufu household—along with her husband, Kojo, and kids, Kofi and Ekua—lives Mel, their management Excel list. It includes a column for each family member and all household needs, “everything from haircuts and laundry to changing the oil in the car and watering the plants,” she adds. “You realize there’s too much to be done for all of you to accomplish. Therefore, we are clear on what won’t be getting done.”
43. NURTURE YOUR CIRCLE
The best thing you can do for yourself is to keep good people close. “We surround ourselves with people who want us to be our best selves,” Dufu says.
44. Send a thank-you note to ten people who make your world better
45. Share this article with a friend
46. COUNT YOUR WINS
Last summer Dufu and her husband celebrated their 20th anniversary with a party of their friends and family who supported them on the journey. “I started off doing the vast majority of household labor and caregiving in our relationship and it wasn’t working,” she says. “I had to renegotiate the terms of our relationship in a big way and had a husband who was willing to do that work.” Savor your progress!
47. CHOOSE YOUR NOS
It was great for Dufu to learn that her daughter, Ekua, 8, was excelling in piano last year. The excitement halted when the teacher said that the youngster could go further if Dufu attended classes. “I kindly explained to him that during the lesson, I’m working to earn the money for her lesson,” she says. “Knowing the value and time I give to my daughter helped me not feel guilty.”
48. FOCUS ON WHAT MATTERS
“At the end of each of our lives, for our eulogy, you aren’t looking for people to say, “Well, she got a lot of things checked off her checklist every day,” ” Dufu states. “You want people to say that you made the world a better place.”
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