Lifestyle Changes Can Improve Heart Health, Reduce Blood Pressure

Friday, August 7, 2009 - 12:22pm

Two recent studies demonstrate that you can avoid serious health problems by changing your diet and lifestyle.

Healthy Lifestyle Can Cut Heart Failure in Half

The medical profession defines heart failure as the heart becoming unable to pump enough blood to supply the body with oxygen and nutrients. Physicians from Harvard Medical School followed data on 20,900 men for an average of more than 22 years. They calculated the risk of heart failure at age 40 as one in seven.

Men who failed to adhere to any of the following habits had a 21-percent risk of heart failure. The risk was only 10 percent for men who practiced four or more of these habits:

  • Maintaining a normal body weight
  • Not smoking
  • Exercising regularly
  • Drinking alcohol only moderately
  • Eating breakfast cereals
  • Eating fruits and vegetables

Women Can Prevent High Blood Pressure

Another Harvard Medical School team studied nearly 84,000 women for 14 years. The authors concluded that people could prevent high blood pressure by adhering to these habits:

  • Maintaining a normal body weight
  • Exercising vigorously for 30 minutes per day
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Drinking only a modest amount of alcohol
  • Using pain medications less than once a week
  • Taking a folic acid supplement

If women practiced all six of these habits versus practicing none, they could reduce the risk of high blood pressure by 78 percent. Even sticking to only three of the habits reduced the risk by 54 percent.

Drinking and Dieting Wisely

Both studies suggest controlling alcohol consumption to improve health. Although a definition requires many qualifications, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services define "moderate drinking" as no more than:

  • One drink a day for most women
  • Two drinks a day for most men

Besides the proven diet and exercise habits, these tactics can help you maintain a healthy weight:

  • Shop from a list and shop when you are not hungry
  • Dish up smaller servings and while at restaurants, eat only half your meal and take the rest home
  • Eat at the table and turn off the TV
  • Be realistic: aim for a slow, modest weight loss

While the studies' conclusions seem like common sense, we can always use more evidence of the value of a healthy lifestyle.