RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The way some media outlets are reporting a new Canadian study, you’d think we should all just give up on living a healthy lifestyle and line up for hypertension medication right away. In the study, researchers found that more hypertension patients were able to maintain a healthy blood pressure with medication only than with a combination of medication and healthy lifestyle changes. It may seem like that means exercise and a healthy diet are a waste of time if you want to beat high blood pressure. But what this actually points to is the fact that making lasting and significant changes can be more challenging than people realize.
THE DETAILS: The researchers surveyed 2,551 men and women, aged 20 to 79. Twenty-one percent had hypertension (high blood pressure); of those, 41 percent were taking drugs for the condition, and 42 percent were taking drugs and making lifestyle changes (like eating differently or exercising) to control it. The scientists found that 85 percent of participants who used drugs alone had their blood pressure under control, while 78 percent of participants who used drugs and made lifestyle changes had their blood pressure under control.
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WHAT IT MEANS: So why wasn’t a healthy lifestyle more effective at lowering blood pressure? The researchers suggest that the study subjects weren’t living up to the healthy guidelines they claimed to be following—perhaps without realizing it. “It’s not that lifestyle changes can’t work,” says study co-author Frans Leenen, MD, PhD, director of the Hypertension Unit at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in Canada. “We know that they do. It’s just that, if you get a low-sodium diet at the hospital that’s sufficient to lower blood pressure, for instance, it’s often harder than you think to carry it over to your real life.” As a result, the study authors caution against making half-hearted lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure in lieu of drug therapy. You’ll simply be delaying treatment of a potentially serious condition, they say, if you’re not absolutely committed to restricting calories and salt, and boosting exercise.
Here’s how you can get serious about lowering your blood pressure: