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Tuesday, 28 August 2012 09:23

A healthy lifestyle can cut the risk of developing high blood pressure by two thirds

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bloodpressuretestExercising regularly, keeping weight down, drinking in moderation and eating plenty of vegetables can cut the chances of developing high blood pressure by two thirds, say researchers.

The impact of these measures on high blood pressure was much bigger than expected, a study found, 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 such as the UK, 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.

Pekka Jousilahti, of Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare, presented the findings yesterday at the European Cardiology Congress in Munich. 

He 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.

‘Four modifiable lifestyle factors – alcohol consumption, physical activity, consumption of vegetables and keeping normal weight – have a remarkable effect on the development of hypertension.’

Professor Jousilahti said the study suggested people should drink a maximum of one to two drinks of alcohol a day, and said ‘even a relatively low amount’ of exercise was enough to make a difference.

Professor Gareth Beevers, a trustee of the Blood Pressure Association UK charity, said: ‘This study shows a big effect from simple changes in lifestyle. It’s surprising and more than you would expect.

‘A recent review of studies into drug treatment for mild hypertension found no benefit, and this new research suggests that making lifestyle changes really does work and could work better.’ 

Professor Jousilahti said 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. 

He said 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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