You probably already know that certain healthy lifestyle behaviors can reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure. But is any one behavior more effective than the others?
Dr. John Booth, III and his colleagues looked at the effects of five healthy behaviors on blood pressure: not smoking, limiting alcohol (drinking 7 or fewer alcoholic drinks per week for women or 14 or fewer drinks a week for men), eating a healthy diet, getting 150 minutes or more a week of moderate to vigorous exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight.
The study started in 1985 and 1986 and looked at 4,700 men and women between 18 and 30 years old. Then over the next 25 years, the researchers checked their health behaviors and measured their blood pressures eight different times. The results of their study were presented recently at an American Heart Association meeting in San Francisco. What do you think the most influential factor was?
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Amazingly enough, exercise, diet, not smoking, and limiting alcohol intake by themselves did not seem to make much of a difference. But maintaining a decent weight made a huge (pun intended) difference. Those who kept their weight at a healthy level were a full 41% less likely to see their blood pressure go up.
According to Dr. Booth, "Our results indicate by maintaining a healthy body weight into middle age, you can help preserve low blood pressure." But that did not mean that practicing a combination of the other healthy behaviors had no effect at all. The men and women who practiced at least four of the healthy behaviors had a 27% decreased risk of high blood pressure. So, what is it about weight that boosts blood pressure?
Dr. Howard Selinger is chair of family medicine at the Frank H. Netter M.D. School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University in North Haven, Conn. He maintains that excess weight may contribute to high blood pressure in a number of ways. "When you gain weight, your heart has to work harder because the weight has a compressive effect on the blood vessels. Over decades, that can produce cardiac problems. The vascular bed - the blood vessels - stiffens as we get older," Selinger said. But for people who don't gain weight, there's less stiffening. "That, in turn, keeps blood pressure lower and prevents more serious outcomes. If you lower your weight, you lower the pressure," Selinger explained.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD