You may be able to control your blood pressure, a new study finds, by improving your score on a measurement of seven heart-healthy behaviors – making only one seem to reduce the risk of hypertension by 6% as you get older.
Plant and his colleagues followed nearly 3,000 middle-aged black and white adults without high blood pressure for nine years. The adults were part of a longitudinal study called REASons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke, also known as REGARDS.
At the end of the nine years, the study found that each increase at one point in seven healthy lifestyle steps recommended by the American Heart Association was associated with a 6% lower risk of high blood pressure.
The simple things of life 7
- To keep your weight measured by body mass index (BMI) at a healthy level between 18.5 and 24.9
- Get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity or a combination of moderate and vigorous or 75 minutes a week of vigorous intensity
- Eating a heart-healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables and low in salt, fat and sugar
- Stop (or never start) cigarette smoking
The AHA tool then folds into three additional health factors for an overall metric:
- Current blood pressure levels – hopefully below 120/80, which is normal or 130/80, which is considered elevated but not hypertensive
- Cholesterol levels today are calculated based on the total risk when combined with such health measurements as blood pressure, smoking status, diabetes status and other factors. “The only ‘real’ current threshold is a 190 mg / dL LDL as the upper end of what is tolerated among people without prior cardiovascular disease,” Plante wrote via email.
- Fasting blood sugar level at 100 milligrams per Decilitres or less, which is considered normal
Each of the seven components gets a score of bad (zero points), intermediate (one point) and ideal (two points), Plante told CNN.
“By adding the points for each of the seven components of the LS7 metric, we get an LS7 total score ranging from 0 to 14. The higher the score, the more ideal the person’s cardiovascular health is,” he said.
Achieving one of these seven goals was associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure – success on each additional behavior or measurement should lower the risk even more.
“People with higher LS7 scores who had more ideal cardiovascular health were less likely to develop high blood pressure 10 years later compared to people with lower LS7 overall scores,” Plante said. “A change in seven points would be a really big change, indicating a huge improvement in cardiovascular health.”
Another great feature of the program, Plante said, is that people can personalize changes they feel they can tackle, add more as their health improves.
“We recommend tailoring step-by-step health improvement and lifestyle changes for patients,” Plante said. “For example, patients may not be susceptible to quitting smoking today; if they are susceptible to getting more exercise today, it would be an improvement on a point LS7 score.”
The study could only show a link between heart-healthy behavior and the lower risk of hypertension, so the next step is to do a randomized clinical trial to confirm the results. Meanwhile, the AHA hopes Americans will focus on “Simple 7” at younger ages to reduce their chances of developing high blood pressure later.
“If we can reach more people in the younger and middle ages with this type of lifestyle assessment, we can look at strong improvements in health in general,” said Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University, AHA-elected president and part of the group that developed Life’s Simple 7 scale and criteria.
The need for prevention is highest among black Americans because they have the “highest rate of high blood pressure among any group in the world and develop the condition at a younger age and with more severity,” it states.
“These findings support current clinical practice recommendations for lifestyle changes such as eating better, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight for all people, including those without high blood pressure,” Plante said.