Which lifestyle behavior has the biggest impact on preventing hypertension?

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Adopting healthy lifestyle habits is a must if any one of us expects to reduce our risk of common chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or hypertension.  Behaviors such as eating a healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise, not smoking, or maintaining a healthy body weight, all have their role in making it more likely we can prevent hypertension that affect about 75 million Americans or every one in three adults.

Which healthy lifestyle habit is the best for preserving blood pressure?  According to new research from the University of Alabama and the American Heart Association’s Strategically Focused Hypertension Research Network, maintaining a healthy body weight rises to the top - specifically maintaining a healthy body weight into middle age. 

This study, which started in 1985-1986, included around 4,700 participants between the ages of 18 and 30 years of age.  For the next 25 years the participants were followed by the researchers eight times who kept track of their blood pressure and four other health behaviors.  Findings showed participants who maintained a healthy body weight were 41 percent less likely to have a rise in blood pressure by the time they reached middle age. 

The five health behaviors tracked during the length of the study included the following:

·      Drinking 7 or fewer alcoholic drinks weekly for women or 14 or fewer drinks a week for men

·      Eating a healthy diet (following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or DASH diet

·      Reaching 150 minutes or more a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity

·      Maintaining a healthy body weight

·      Never smoking

Participants who managed to meet at least four of the healthy behaviors had a 27 percent reduction of being diagnosed with high blood pressure by middle age.

Surprisingly, keeping oneself physically active and eating a healthy diet was not specifically linked to a better blood pressure. But researchers pointed out that does not mean that regular exercise or eating healthy foods were not important since in order to reach and maintain a healthy body weight, one would need to be physically active and be making healthy food choices on a consistent basis.

So why does keeping a healthy body weight look to be a strong factor in preventing hypertension?  A strong factor is gaining excess body weight adds to the burden of the heart’s workload.  The excess pounds have a compressive effect on blood vessels which over many years can contribute to cardiac problems.  Plus our blood vessels stiffen as we age and weighing more than one should only exacerbates the problem.  By not gaining excess weight and instead maintaining a healthier body weight, the blood vessels have less stiffening meaning the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to push blood flow through the vessels since they are not as rigid.  This in turn, leads to a reduction in serious heart issues.  Essentially, the lower your body weight, the lower your blood pressure.

The researchers did stress that each of the five factors they looked are all important in reaching and maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Everyone should practice these suggested measures to increase their chance of having a healthy blood pressure and less risk of heart disease