In 2021 alone, more than 930,000 deaths in the United States were due to cardiovascular disease, which equates to one in every four deaths. At the top of this list are Black adults, who continue to be disproportionately affected, according to recent studies.
The good news, however, is that heart disease is highly preventable with the proper lifestyle adjustment.
Aware of this, The CDC Foundation launched the “Live to the Beat” campaign to provide culturally-relevant health education content surrounding cardiovascular health. In its second year, the campaign, which recently leverage the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop, American Heart Month and Black History Month, shined a spotlight on the steps people can take to improve their heart health at a special event in Atlanta hosted by rapper and activist Killer Mike.
“CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention recognizes addressing cardiovascular disease among Black adults in the United States is urgent,” says Booker Daniels, health communication team lead, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at CDC. ‘Live to the Beat’ is an important consumer-focused effort that encourages people to take smalls steps to lower their risk for heart disease and stroke.”
Blackdoctor.org sat down with the rapper to discuss his own journey to better health after his doctor told him that he needed to make some lifestyle changes, why he joined the “Live to the Beat” campaign and the importance of the Black community taking charge of their own health.
BDO: What made you want to join the “Live to the Beat” campaign?
KM: I had to make some fundamental life changes in terms of eating differently, moving my body more and being more cognizant of my own health. We tour relentlessly (my rap group, Run the Jewels). We did 123 days in one year and I woke up twice in the hospital from dehydration and exhaustion. My doctor, whose a Black woman and an amazing doctor, said you’re beating yourself up and these are the things you need to do to self-correct to make sure that you don’t have problems in the future and that your body can actually hold up to function in a way that is going to allow you to keep the integrity of the performance that you have. As I’ve learned more, I’ve dropped some weight. I’ve dropped about 47 pounds. My goal is to drop another 50 this year. I monitor everything from my blood sugar levels to my blood pressure and lung capacity because as a kid, I grew up with asthma. So, I’m just learning how it all works. The better my body functioning works, the better my mind is functioning, the calmer my soul is, and the better my performance is as a musician. As you get older, you have to be more cognizant.
BDO: You just mentioned being on tour. In the past, you stated that being on tour led to an unhealthy lifestyle. How has your tour routine changed?
KM: When I’m touring, there are no more sodas backstage. I don’t do sugary drinks anymore at all. I drink either unsweetened tea with lemons or water with lemons. I try to lean heavily on proteins and grains. Proteins can be anything from chicken or an expensive cut beef to beans and a burrito, but I try to stay really close to the way my grandparents ate, which was food right out of the garden or fresh off of slaughter. My grandfather ate game meat, so I grew up eating meat that was wild. I order my meat now from farms or directly from people who I know, whether it’s beef or pork. Chicken- I still get sometimes from Whole Foods (stuff like chicken breasts or cutlets). I eat a lot more salads and a lot more green stuff, whether it’s turnips or collards or kale or salads. We used to fast for religious reasons when I was a kid, and then when I got older, I realized that it was actually kind of healthy. So one day a week I may just only do water, do my prayers and meditation. Two days of the week, I’ll fast for the first half of the day like we did when we were kids saying our prayers and meditating. There’s an old thing that, interesting enough, comes out of the old Black Muslim experience from the 60s where they would eat once a day and there are some days where I’ll literally just break my fast with one six o’clock meal. I try to eat more proteins and grains. If not, I fast for spiritual and physical reasons. I’m more cognizant of what I’m drinking, I don’t drink my calories anymore. I drink water.
BDO: You just mentioned your grandparents and what it was like growing up. Knowledge of your family health history is important, especially in the Black community. Did you have any conversations with your family when you began making lifestyle changes?
KM: Everybody started doing it together. My youngest daughter joined the weightlifting class in high school. I think she’s going to wrestle. My son suffers from kidney disease, so we had already made some eating and lifestyle changes around his change. We’re about to start doing family meetups and walks once or twice a week so everybody will take their habit back with them. We use it as an excuse to be around each other more.
BDO: That’s great. Can you tell me a little bit more about the “Live to the Beat” campaign? I know you recently hosted an event in Atlanta.
KM: The “Live to the Beat” event was amazing because it put everybody from the spectrum together in one room. There were people who were there from their first exercise, yoga or move body class. There were people there who were buying or getting food from vendors who taught how to cook tasty foods that were extremely healthy for you. Grady Memorial Hospital, which is one of the number one stroke centers in the South East, was there teaching people to put an app on their phone that helps them keep monitoring these things. It put everything in one place for people to enjoy and I saw everything from senior citizens there with their grandchildren to new moms there with their babies to families that were mom, dad and kids together. I thought it was an absolutely amazing experience. I really enjoyed doing it. Also, Shanti Das, who is like a big sister to me, was my co-host. Shanti cares about mental health and that was something that she brought to the table too because a lot of times anxiety and depression can lead people to unhealthy eating habits or to eat to calm nerves and fears and things of that nature. That was an aspect that got addressed too. And Big Tigger is a hell of a DJ, he got people jamming and moving their bodies the entire four hours.
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BDO: Outside of the campaign emphasizing the need for physical wellness, making lifestyle changes to prevent heart disease and addressing some of the stigmas in the Black community, how else do you think this movement is helping inspire a healthy lifestyle?
KM: Just showing people that they’re part of the community. I think that’s the most important part. A lot of times it gets to feeling lonely in terms of when you’re making lifestyle changes if everyone around you isn’t making any change at the same time, which is why I’m really glad that as a family we made these changes together and are continuing to learn and do more. But I think it shows that you’re part of a community and I think that’s the most beautiful and important part because