It has been suggested for sometime by a range of research studies that lifestyle changes, such as exercising to lose weight and following a healthy diet, are possibly as important as drugs for treating chronic diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension.
Studies have shown that lifestyle changes can reduce blood pressure for up to 6 months, but it seems most people have trouble when it comes to maintaining lifestyle changes for longer periods of time.
It has to date never been shown whether the benefits of a healthy lifestyle for blood pressure control are more durable than medication.
Researchers in the U.S. involved in the PREMIER Collaborative Research Group were curious to see whether people could maintain lifestyle changes that lower blood pressure for 18 months.
In their study a group of 810 generally healthy adults with borderline or mild hypertension were randomly assigned into 3 groups.
In one group, participants were given repeated lifestyle change counseling over time with specific goals for how much weight to lose, how much to exercise, and how much salt and alcohol to include in their diet.
The second group received the same counseling and guidance as those in the first group, but were also given specific goals for increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy products and decreasing the amount of fat in their diet.
The third group only received general advice to lose weight, increase physical activity, and maintain a healthy diet.
After a period of eighteen months the researchers compared the average weight, diet, and blood pressure of participants in each of the groups.
The researchers found that those who were given specific goals for diet and exercise lost more weight and had better diets after 18 months than those who were not given specific guidance. They were also less likely to have hypertension.
In the other two groups who received different guidance on how to improve their diet, no difference in blood pressure levels was found.
The researchers say the study was limited in that it applied only to patients with borderline or mild hypertension who were not taking drugs to control their blood pressure.
Blood pressure control is important because it reduces heart and blood vessel disease and this study was not designed to evaluate the effect of improving diet and exercise on such diseases.
The researchers found however that for people with borderline or mild hypertension, maintaining a healthy diet and level of physical activity for at least 18 months improves the blood pressure.
They say such lifestyle changes suggests their risk of having full-blown high blood pressure was about one-fifth lower than that of study participants who received only advice on lifestyle changes.
The findings are published in the current issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.