- A diet rich in fruits vegetables, low in salt and sugar-sweetened beverages along with regular exercise and weight loss is the best lifestyle treatment for high blood pressure.
According to the CDC, about 70 million American adults have high blood pressure. This amounts to about 1 in every 3 adults. Even more startling is the fact that high blood pressure costs our country $46 billion each year.
Despite these alarming statistics, it’s surprising that people have forgotten about one of the most fundamental treatments for blood pressure. People would rather take a handful of pills then fill their plates with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Healthy food choices and exercise continues to be some of the most underutilized modalities in our society. There has been lots of research showing the incredible benefit of lifestyle changes in chronic conditions like blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease.
One of the classic studies, the PREMIER clinical trial. looked at the role of DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet on blood pressure. After 6 months, the mean reduction in systolic blood pressure in the DASH diet group was 11.1 mm Hg. This is actually equivalent to the results achieved with some blood pressure medications.
The DASH diet is a simple diet that requires no special foods. The plan calls for eating vegetables, fruits and whole grains. It allows for low-fat or fat-free dairy products, fish, chicken, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils. The limitations are focused on minimizing foods that are high in saturated fats, sodium (limit to 2300mg per day) and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Notice I did not mention consuming pizza, hot dogs, cookies, candies, cakes, chips. Last I checked, these don’t fall under the vegetable section.
Exercise also has impressive effects on blood pressure. A recent review study of 27 randomized controlled trials showed that regular medium-to-high intensity exercise can reduce the systolic blood pressure on average by 11 mm hg.
It should be noted that the effects of diet plus exercise are not additive. Another words, you shouldn’t expect to improve your blood pressure by 22 points. However, your blood pressure will improve more with diet plus exercise than with either therapy alone.
If you are really looking for some drastic results with lifestyle changes, add weight loss to the mix. In a study from the Archives of Internal Medicine, the authors showed that in participants following the DASH diet along with exercise and weight management, the systolic blood pressure was reduced by 16 pts!
So, if you have high blood pressure, focus on:
- A healthy diet like the DASH diet, Mediterranean diet or whole foods, plant-based diet.
- Regular exercise
- Weight loss.