Lifestyle changes are the first step in reducing blood pressure according to the 2017 American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Hypertension Guideline.
Men and women with high blood pressure reduced the need for antihypertensive medications within 16 weeks after making lifestyle changes, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Joint Hypertension 2018 Scientific Sessions. This is an annual conference focused on recent advances in hypertension research.
The researchers randomly assigned each patient to one of three 16-week interventions. Participants in one group changed the content of their diets and took part in a weight management program that included behavioral counseling and three-times weekly supervised exercise.
They changed their eating habits to that of the DASH diet plan, a nutritional approach proven to lower blood pressure. DASH emphasizes fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy and minimizes consumption of red meat, salt and sweets.
Participants in the second group changed diet only, focusing on the DASH diet with the help of a nutritionist. The third group didn’t change their exercise or eating habits. The researchers found:
- Those eating the DASH diet and participating in the weight management group lost an average 19 pounds and had reduced blood pressure by an average 16 mmHg systolic and 10 mmHg diastolic at the close of the 16 weeks.
- Those following only the DASH eating plan had blood pressures decrease an average 11 systolic/8 diastolic mmHg.
- Adults who didn’t change their eating or exercise habits experienced a minimal blood pressure decline of an average 3 systolic/4 diastolic mmHg.
By the study’s end, only 15 percent of those who had changed both their diet and their exercise habits needed antihypertensive medications, as recommended by the 2017 AHA/ACC guideline, compared to 23 percent in the group that only changed their diet. However, there was no change in the need for medications among those who didn’t change their diet or exercise habits — nearly 50 percent continued to meet criteria for drug treatment.
Still On The Discussion
Lowering your sodium intake is important because sodium increases blood pressure by causing the body to retain excess fluid. This puts an added burden on your heart and puts more pressure on your blood vessels.
There are six popular foods that can add high levels of sodium to your diet,” says Rachel Johnson, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont in Burlington and the former chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee. “They are breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, sandwiches, pizza, soup, and chicken.
Dr. Johnson also notes that eating foods with potassium is important for controlling blood pressure because potassium slows the effects of sodium. Good sources of potassium include:
- Fruits like bananas, dried apricots, and pomegranates
- Vegetables like brussels sprouts, beets, and acorn squash
- Dairy products including fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk
- Coconut water
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet, is an eating plan based on research studies funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. The DASH diet has been shown to lower high blood pressure and improve cholesterol — two factors that lower your risk of heart disease.
Don’t try to change everything at once. Think about what you can manage initially, such as adding a serving of fruit or vegetable every day,” says Johnson. “Once that change becomes a habit you can move on to another heart-healthy change.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed about how to make changes to your diet or if you’re trying to lose weight, you may want to consider working with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). Some people work with an RDN if they have a health condition like type 2 diabetes. In fact, high blood pressure is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. This is partly because they share similar modifiable risk factors like being overweight or obese, an unhealthy diet, and lack of physical activity.