Prescription to Prevent High Blood Pressure: 4 Behaviors

Prevent high blood pressure
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Preventive care is the most important thing you can do for your health because you don't have to treat what you don't get. One of the most common and deadly conditions you can prevent is high blood pressure, and you can do it without spending a dime on prescriptions if you adopt four behaviors.

How to avoid antihypertensive drugs

If you want to avoid having to use antihypertensive drugs, improve your health, and prevent symptoms and death associated with high blood pressure, adopt four healthy behaviors. Those four behaviors, according to Professor Pekka Jousilahti from National Institute for Health and Welfare, can reduce your risk of hypertension by up to two thirds.

The four behaviors are:

  • Limit alcohol: Limit your alcohol consumption to less than 50 grams per week. Fifty grams translates into 1.7 ounces.
  • Exercise: Engage in leisure physical activity at least three times per week. Research indicates that at least 30 minutes per session is recommended.
  • Eat vegetables: Include vegetables in your diet every day. According to the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), you should eat 3 to 5 servings per day of vegetables to help control blood pressure.
  • Maintain normal weight: Achieve and maintain a body mass index of less than 25.

A fifth behavior--smoking--was not included in the final analysis, even though it is one of five major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Jousilahti noted that they omitted it because "it was not associated with the development of hypertension in our analyses, which is in accordance with previous studies."

In the new research, which was presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress by Jousilahti, the study population consisted of 9,637 Finnish men and 1,430 women ages 25 to 74 years who were free of hypertension at their entry into the study, which covered 1982 to 2002. Mean follow-up was 16 years.

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During the follow-up period, 709 men and 890 women developed high blood pressure. Here is what the investigators found:

  • The risk of developing high blood pressure was reduced by 67% among men and 63% among women who practiced all four healthy behaviors when compared with people who had adopted none of them.
  • Practicing three healthy behaviors resulted in a 66% reduction among men and 59% reduction among women
  • Men who engaged in two healthy behaviors had a 49% reduced risk while women had a 32% lower risk.
  • Even practicing one healthy behavior was beneficial:26% reduced risk in men and 11% lower risk in women
  • Men appeared to benefit more from adopting healthful behaviors than did women, although both sexes fared similarly well when they practiced three or four habits

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about one third of adults in the United States have high blood pressure, and the incidence is growing among children and adolescents. Recognition and adoption of the behaviors noted in this study could result in a significant decline in hypertension in the country with an accompanying decline in the need for antihypertensive drugs.

In 2010, it was estimated that treating high blood pressure and days lost from work related to the disease cost the United States $93.5 billion. If Americans would adopt healthful habits, they could cause that figure to drop significantly.

Jousilahti noted that "Lifestyle modification has a huge public health potential to prevent hypertension." He pointed out that the prescription for high blood pressure includes four behaviors that apply not only to prevention but "should apply to the treatment of patients with hypertension" as well.

SOURCES:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
European Society of Cardiology
Heidenreich PA et al. Forecasting the future of cardiovascular disease in the United States: a policy statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 2011; 123:933-44

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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