Doretha Walker says when she and other members of Black Girls Run! went for a jog on the Ravenel Bridge, people told her they'd never seen that many black women running.

Being active truly is a matter of life and death for black women. Heart disease is the number one killer of women, and African-American women are the most at risk because of a history of obesity and diabetes.

Walker, of Mount Pleasant, is an avid runner and the founder of the Charleston chapter of Black Girls Run! She said many black women don't exercise because they don't know where to start.

“They want to start, but they don't know how. We have groups that take you from walking to running,” Walker said. There are about 850 members in the Charleston chapter who form several running groups to accommodate preferences and schedules.

Other factors that hinder black women from exercise may not seem important as health issues, but shouldn't be dismissed as trivial. Worries about hair, not knowing what to wear and not wanting to do it alone are serious concerns that my friend, third-year Medical University of South Carolina student Lindsey Johnson, said are “more mental than anything else.”

Women with relaxed or straightened hair have to worry about sweat ruining their hairstyles. And I'll be honest. I've used the excuse “I don't want to ruin my hair” for not doing something physical.

But after speaking to Johnson, I realized that I have to make short-term sacrifices for long-term benefits.

“I knew I could always schedule another hair appointment. I couldn't see myself putting off working out for something as frivolous as my hairstyle,” Johnson said.

Getting your hair done every week can be expensive, but Johnson said her hairstylist charged less because she was coming in so often. Getting your hair braided is another option or going natural like Walker, who has dreadlocks.

Johnson added that having the proper gym wear does more than make you look good, too. Stores such as Ross, T.J.Maxx or Marshalls carry inexpensive active wear.

“Something as simple as a cute gym outfit can make you feel like you belong and make you want to go back.”

Johnson started her routine with group classes because the “positive peer pressure” motivated her. When she got comfortable she was able to make a routine of her own.

And in organizations like Black Girls Run! no one has to do it alone. Walker said her morning runs are a time to catch up with friends and have “become social as well as physical.”

In order to beat heart disease we also have to change our diets, which is hard in the land of fried everything.

Johnson said stereotypes like the Southern black woman in the kitchen frying chicken and not working out don't have to be true.

“Break the mold for yourself. Don't let hair or being alone stop you. At the end of the day, it's going to be you in that hospital bed,” Johnson said.

As National Heart Awareness Month winds down, African- American women need to take this information and run with it. Literally.

For more information or to join, visit Black Girls Run! Charleston on Facebook.

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@postandcourier.com.