0904-Feature-Hoops for health_Blog

Russell Carter just wanted to shoot hoops with friends when he joined a men’s basketball league in the Austin, Texas, area. But soon he had a different goal.

“In the typical African-American community, the basketball court, barbershops and neighborhood lounges are places men convene for fellowship and camaraderie,” said Carter, 47.

More than 100 African-American men participate in the league, which is based on an American Heart Association program called Check. Change. Control. that helps people manage blood pressure. Players had their blood pressure checked in July at the start of the season.

“I considered the health checks just a nice bonus,” said Carter, who was told his blood pressure was elevated.

Carter followed up with his doctor, who said his blood pressure was in a healthy range but that he should keep a closer eye on it. Now he’s checking his blood pressure more often.

High blood pressure affects more than 40 percent of African-Americans, according to the AHA. It also develops earlier in life for African-Americans than for whites, and is usually more severe.

Check. Change. Control. incorporates Heart360, a tool for tracking blood pressure, physical activity, cholesterol, blood sugar, weight and medications. The program is in seven churches in the Austin area thanks to Darrell Barnett, who started the basketball league this summer and recruits men from the congregations.

“The church is the mainstay for the African-American community,” said Barnett, a public health educator for the state’s health and human services department, which runs the blood pressure program. “We don’t have anything else that’s nearly as influential for us.”

A prevention team focused on African-American quality of life, which includes a registered nurse and community health worker, performs blood pressure screenings and glucose checks for the players at the season’s start and again six weeks later. Players also get educational materials on high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.

Barnett has had to turn away men with high blood pressure, but encourages them to address it. They can’t come back until they see a doctor.

“I consider myself a mentor to younger relatives and disadvantaged youth in my community,” Barnett said. “It’s important to contribute to health awareness by talking about experiences in education, nutrition and exercise. I’ve had so many guys who hadn’t had their blood pressure checked in a year and aren’t going to the doctor. You should check it two or three times a month.”

Basketball league team

Darrell Barnett, wearing No. 22, with members of the Austin-area basketball league.

Barnett, who plans to start a women’s volleyball league, said the basketball league is working.

“They want a better quality of life. These guys want to change the culture,” he said, adding that many people are so busy and exhausted with work that the drive-through — with high-fat, high-sodium options — often becomes the answer for dinner.

Carl Britton started eating better when he joined the league and found out his blood pressure was high. He also started getting more sleep and managing his stress.

“As African-American men, we are at a higher risk,” said Britton, 42, an analyst for the City of Austin EMS division and a licensed barber. “Just because you feel good doesn’t mean that you don’t have any health problems.”

Photo courtesy of Darrell Barnett