New Research Shows DASH, Lifestyle Changes Make Big Difference to BP

When it comes to our health, we always talk to our doctors about medications and our next steps. It’s vitally important to get guidance from someone who knows your background. But, one-third of Americans who take medication for hypertension still struggle with high blood pressure, and the risk grows as they become older.

It’s highly frustrating to take meds and still see problems. It doesn’t necessarily mean the medication isn’t working; a person could be suffering from resistant hypertension (RH). That’s when a person takes three types of medication and still sees high readings. There’s good news though. New research has found that a mix of the DASH diet and increasing exercise can make a big difference when medication alone isn’t helping.

Though we usually think about recommending lifestyle changes like losing weight and getting more physical activity before starting medications, this study provides important reinforcement that adding lifestyle changes in conjunction with medications — and when medications alone are not doing the job — is an effective strategy,” said Bethany Barone Gibbs, an associate professor at the Univ. of Pittsburgh.

People in a study continued to take their medication but added diet and lifestyle changes to their routine. About two-thirds were given weekly advice on how to follow the DASH diet. They also had supervised exercise training and a cardiac rehab center three times a week. One-third of the group were given one training session and written guidelines on nutrition, weight loss and exercise. People in the guided group saw their systolic blood pressure drop by 12 points. People in the self-guided group lowered their systolic blood pressure by seven points. Even though the people who received help saw a larger change, the people working by themselves did well. And it shows that lifestyle changes can help, even while taking medication.  

It is surprising that lifestyle modification has not been rigorously evaluated in patients with RH,” said Dr. James Blumenthal, professor at Duke Univ. Medical Center. “Our findings showed lifestyle modifications among people with RH can help them successfully lose weight and increase their physical activity, and as a result, lower blood pressure and potentially reduce their risk of heart attack or stroke. While some people can make lifestyle changes on their own, a structured program of supervised exercise and dietary modifications conducted by a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals in cardiac rehabilitation programs is likely more effective.”

The most important point is that it is not too late to lower blood pressure by making healthy lifestyle choices,” Dr. Blumenthal stressed.

If you are taking medication for hypertension and still struggling with your blood pressure, you may want to speak to your doctor about RH. There could be healthy programs you could join. This study also underscored the effectiveness of the DASH diet and exercise when pursued by individuals on their own. Taking control of your health is essential. Talk to your doctor about your options and learn what might be best for you.  

Banner image: CDC via Unsplash

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