People really can commit to diet and lifestyle changes for the long haul, and the benefit shows up in their blood pressure, researchers reported Monday.
In a study of 810 adults with elevated blood pressure, investigators found that those who were given a lifestyle overhaul were generally able to stick with the plan for the 18 months they were followed.
Moreover, 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, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, show that people can change their behavior for the long term, according to study co-author Dr. William Vollmer, of Kaiser Permanente Northwest in Portland, Oregon.
“That’s the bottom line,” he told Reuters Health. “People were able to maintain multiple lifestyle modifications.”
Those modifications were slightly different depending on which group study volunteers were in. One group was given goals of exercising for at least 3 hours per week, cutting sodium and alcohol intake, and, if overweight, shedding 15 pounds.
A second group had all of those goals, plus instructions to follow the American Heart Association’s DASH diet, which calls for boosting fruit, vegetable and low-fat dairy intake, while cutting down on saturated fat.
Both groups attended regular counseling sessions to help them work these lifestyle changes into their daily routine.
A third group received only advice on diet, exercise and weight loss.
After 18 months, men and women in both counseling groups were eating less fat and sodium, and had shed some pounds; one-quarter had met the goal of losing 15 pounds. Those in the more intensive DASH diet group had also increased their fruit, vegetable and low-fat dairy intake.
These changes, the researchers found, were reflected in their blood pressure. At the outset, all of the study volunteers were either on the verge of high blood pressure or in the earliest stage of the condition, and nearly all were overweight.
After 18 months, rates of full-blown high blood pressure were lower in all three groups, but lowest in the DASH group - where it fell from 38 percent to 22 percent.
In the other counseling group, the hypertension rate slid from 36 percent to 24 percent.
“This is very encouraging news,” said Vollmer, noting that there had been some concern that having people make multiple diet and exercise changes at the same time might “overwhelm” them.
In real life, he acknowledged, few people would have the support of group and individual counseling, as his study volunteers did. In fact, Vollmer said, the advice-only group, where participants had two 30-minute discussions with a health educator, got more support than would the average American battling excess pounds and elevated blood pressure.
But, Vollmer added, any kind of support can help a person stick to lifestyle changes, even if it’s simply a friend who will take a regular walk with you.
“People love to have social support,” he said.
SOURCE: Annals of Internal Medicine, April 4, 2006.
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD