A healthy lifestyle could reduce high blood pressure as effectively as drugs

Whilst we all know that exercising regularly, keeping our weight down, drinking in moderation and eating plenty of vegetables can affect our blood pressure, new research suggests that it can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure, by two thirds.

The impact of these measures on high blood pressure was much higher than expected, and in some cases could even be just as effective a way to treat sufferers as prescribing drugs. Just walking to work and restricting alcohol to two drinks a day can reduce the risk markedly, according to the study of more than 20,000 people.

Every day there are 350 preventable strokes or heart attacks in the UK caused by high blood pressure. In developed countries the lifetime risk of developing high blood pressure is now 90 per cent, and six million Britons take drugs to control it.

People with hypertension (the medical term for high blood pressure) are already routinely advised to make the lifestyle changes highlighted in the study, but the effect far surpassed expectations. The Finnish study followed 9,637 men and 11,430 women aged 25 to 74, who did not have hypertension.

Their adherence to healthy lifestyle factors was recorded, which included alcohol consumption of less than 50g per week (roughly six units), exercise at least three times per week, daily consumption of vegetables, and normal weight. During a follow-up period covering an average of 16 years, 709 of the men and 890 of the women developed hypertension.

Proffesor Pekka Jousilahti, ofFinland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare said: “The risk of hypertension was only one third among those having all four healthy lifestyle factors, compared with those having none. Even having one to three healthy lifestyle factors reduced the risk of hypertension remarkably.

For example, having two healthy lifestyle factors reduced the risk of hypertension by nearly 50 per cent in men, and by more than 30 per cent in women. Alcohol consumption, physical activity, daily consumption of vegetables and keeping normal weight are the four lifestyle factors that seem to have a remarkable effect on the development of hypertension.

Professor Jousilahti went on to add “people should drink a maximum of one to two drinks of alcohol a day and that even a relatively low amount of exercise was enough to make a difference.”  This was backed up by Professor Gareth Beevers, a trustee of the Blood Pressure Association UK charity, who said: “This study shows a big effect from simple changes in lifestyle. It’s surprising and more than you would expect.”

Professor Jousilahti concluded by saying: “that although participants were healthy at the start of the study, it was likely the findings would also help those who already have high blood pressure. Patients could reduce their blood pressure by modifying the four lifestyle factors alone, or by making these modifications while taking blood pressure-lowering medication.”

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