Most people know high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
But a new study from the National Institutes of Health shows men and women who make some relatively simple, healthy lifestyle changes can significantly lower their blood pressure without medication.
Results of the study, called PREMIER, appear in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The study showed significant blood pressure reductions occurred when the changes were sustained for a year-and-a-half, explains The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay.
With behavioral counseling, exercise and a healthy eating plan called DASH, rates of high blood pressure dropped 15 percent among participants, Senay says.
The results didn't surprise Senay.
"There's no secret here," she told co-anchor Rene Syler Tuesday. "This study is really important because it really shows that it can be done. ... Lifestyle changes are so important. I hope this kind of information gets out there, so people are not so reluctant to try it. If they realize it can be done, maybe it will start to take hold, and people will do it.
"And I think the medical community tends to sort of give up before we get started. They think, 'My patients aren't gonna do it.' So, we all have to change our thinking."
DASH, which stands for "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension," was a clinical study that tested the effects of nutrients in food on blood pressure. Results indicated that elevated blood pressures were reduced by an eating plan that emphasized fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods, and was low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol. The DASH eating plan includes whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts and has reduced amounts of fats, red meats, sweets and sugared beverages.
Asked if this means medication may not be needed to lower blood pressure, Senay replied: "It doesn't mean (that). Some people certainly can control their blood pressure with the DASH diet; not everybody, however. But, it's not an either-or: 'If I'm on a medication, I don't need to follow a lifestyle change plan.' That's just not true. They have to go hand in hand. If you're on a medication, you need to stick to the lifestyle changes. It's even more important that you do. And some people who follow lifestyle changes can even reduce the amount of medication they're on or get off it altogether."
An estimated 65 million adults have hypertension in the United States, while another 59 million have pre-hypertension, a level that's above normal.
Study participants who followed the DASH eating plan showed the greatest drop in blood pressure, Senay says. Cutting back on dietary sodium helps lower blood pressure for both the DASH eating plan and the typical American diet. The biggest blood pressure-lowering benefits come from lowering sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams a day.
In general, Senay added, blood-pressure lowering lifestyle changes can include losing weight, eating foods low in fat and salt and high in potassium, not smoking, limiting caffeine and alcohol, getting regular exercise and managing stress.
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