image of a heart for discussing heart disease

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If you’re going into 2021 with goals in mind to achieve, one that you should add to your list is taking care of your heart health. Heart disease is the leading killer of all Americans, with causes for it including high blood pressure, not properly managing stress, obesity, high cholesterol, and a lack of physical activity, among other things. Black people are especially impacted by high blood pressure, with Black women 60 percent more likely to have it than white women.

“There are many reasons why high blood pressure disproportionately affects this population, but a few that are top of mind include genetic factors, higher sensitivity to salt, and a tendency to respond to antihypertensives differently than other groups,” said Dr. Jen Caudle, a physician teaming up with Tylenol to educate Black women and men about the importance of focusing on heart health. Tylenol is working with the Nation Urban League to provide access to educational resources for communities with an increased prevalence of hypertension and address health disparities impacting Black Americans. Tylenol is also a recommended pain reliever for those with high blood pressure. It doesn’t interfere with over-the-counter medications for that condition like ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can.

“Untreated or poorly managed high blood pressure can lead to heart attack or stroke, which is why it’s so important to be proactive about your heart health,” she added.

The year 2020 was an especially stressful one for so many people, as we were forced indoors by the coronavirus. Physical activity decreased for some, diets were turned on their heads, and people were filled with constant anxiety over how they’d pay their bills and their families’ health and wellness. That being said, 2020 was not the best one for our heart health.

“There’s no question that the pandemic has led to one of the most stressful years on record. Stress can play a role in heart health, which is why it’s so important to be proactive about managing your heart health, even during these unprecedented times,” she said. “Focus on factors you can control, like diet, exercise, and medication adherence. I also recommend that individuals with hypertension keep track of key health numbers, including blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight. You can track these vitals at home using tools such as a blood pressure monitor or scale, so you can understand your risk factors and take your heart health into your own hands.”

Going into the new year, whether stuck in the house or not, Dr. Caudle says small changes in your lifestyle can make a big difference. Taking a holistic view of health, including changing the way you eat and how active you are, is necessary.

“Stock your refrigerator and pantry with heart-healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,” she said. “Take regular walks around the block, weather permitting, and take advantage of free or low-cost online exercise classes if going outside or open health clubs are not an option.”

You don’t have to wait until the new year to do better, though. As you celebrate leaving 2020 behind, you can start being proactive about taking care of your heart. For one, Dr. Caudle says it’s important to take it easy with what you consume, especially alcohol. Avoid the New Year’s Eve hangover.

“It’s important to drink alcohol only in moderation,” she said. “It’s easy to overindulge during the holidays, but instead try to focus on maintaining a healthy diet while still enjoying treats in moderation. For example, try eating a healthy main course of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and finishing with a small sweet treat to still enjoy the season.”

In addition to that, as she mentioned, get outside and be active when possible. And to manage stress and anxiety, particularly when it’s tied to being far from loved ones during this pandemic, connect with them regularly through virtual means.

“Schedule virtual check-ins with friends and family, whether by phone or video, to help spread joy and positivity and boost your mood,” Dr. Caudle adds.

With heart disease impacting so many Americans, including Black women, we have to prioritize living a healthier lifestyle. We also need to have the right pain relievers, like Tylenol, in our medicine cabinets when dealing with conditions that can lead to heart disease. African Americans between the ages of 18-49 are twice as likely to die from heart disease than their white counterparts. The effort you make now can make all the difference in changing those stats and in your ability to celebrate many more new years to come.