Lifestyle change and blood pressure
Men and women with elevated blood pressure who make healthy lifestyle changes and sustain them for up to a year and a half can substantially reduce their rates of high blood pressure and potentially decrease their heart disease risk. With behavioral counseling, increases in physical activity, and adoption of a healthy eating plan called DASH, rates of high blood pressure dropped from 37 to 22 percent among participants in a study conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health.
A total of 810 men and women ages 25 and older with either prehypertension (120-139mmHg/80-89mmHg) or stage 1 hypertension (140-159mmHg/90-95mmHg) but who were not taking medications to control blood pressure were randomly assigned to three groups.
- Participants in two of the groups attended 18 counseling sessions during the first six months. They were prescribed goals for weight loss, physical activity, and given sodium and alcohol intake limits. One of these groups also received guidance on implementing the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet (DASH), an eating plan rich in fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products and low in saturated, total fat and dietary cholesterol.
- A third group served as a control, receiving only two 30-minute sessions of advice to follow standard recommendations for blood pressure control. A third session was offered at the end of the 18-month trial after measurements were completed.
The numbers of participants with high blood pressure declined in all three groups, but the reduction was greater in the intervention groups and most striking in the intervention group that included the DASH eating plan. While approximately 37 percent of participants in all three groups had high blood pressure at the study's start, this was reduced to 22 percent in the group following DASH and 24 percent in the intervention group without DASH. By comparison, the rate of hypertension fell only to 32 percent in the control group.
(The researchers say the study was limited in that it applied only to patients with borderline or mild hypertension who were not taking drugs to control their blood pressure.)
"These rates of hypertension control produced by the two interventions are even better than the 50 percent control rates typically found when single drug therapy is used to control high blood pressure."