Munich, Germany—Substantial reductions, by as much as 66%, in the risk of developing hypertension were found in people who adopted healthy lifestyle behaviors in a large prospective population-based cohort study in Finland, the results of which were presented by Pekka Jousilahti, MD, PhD, Research Professor from National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland, at the 2012 European Society of Cardiology Congress.
“Four modifiable lifestyle factors—alcohol consumption, physical activity, consumption of vegetables, and keeping normal weight—have a remarkable effect on the development of hypertension,” said Dr Jousilahti. “Even having 1 to 3 healthy lifestyle factors reduced the risk of hypertension remarkably. For example, having 2 healthy lifestyle factors reduced the risk of hypertension by nearly 50% in men and by more than 30% in women.” Adhering to all 4 lifestyle behaviors reduced the risk of hypertension by 67% in men and by 63% in women.
“The effects are additive of adopting more healthy lifestyle behaviors,” said Dr Jousilahti.
The study included 9637 Finnish men and 11,430 women (aged 25-74 years) without hypertension during the baseline measurements (taken every 5 years from 1982 to 2002). The Social Insurance Institution of Finland register data were used to determine reimbursement for antihypertensive agents and hence the development of hypertension.
Healthy lifestyle factors were defined as not smoking, alcohol consumption <50 g weekly, leisure-time physical activity at least 3 times weekly, daily consumption of vegetables, and normal weight (body mass index <25 kg/m2).
Smoking was omitted from the final analysis, because it was not found to be associated with the development of hypertension, although it is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, said Dr Jousilahti.
Hypertension is the leading cause of mortality in the world, contributing to more approximately 15% of all deaths annually, according to data from the World Health Organization. “Lifestyle modification has a huge public health potential to prevent hypertension,” stated Dr Jousilahti, and he urged both men and women to “take steps towards a healthier lifestyle to decrease their risk of hypertension.”
Although their research suggests that lifestyle modification may produce greater reductions in hypertension in men than in women, it also shows large benefits in women; adherence to all 4 healthy lifestyle factors had a nearly similar effect in both sexes. Dr Jousilahti noted that the greater impact in men may be related to the stronger association of obesity and alcohol consumption with the risk of hypertension in men than in women.
Adherence to 1 healthy lifestyle behavior reduced the hypertension risk by 26% in men and by 11% in women; 2 lifestyle behaviors reduced the risk by 49% in men and by 32% in women; 3 lifestyle behaviors by 66% and by 59% for men and women; and 4 lifestyle behaviors by 67% and 63% of men and women, respectively.
“The results should apply to the treatment of patients with hypertension, who can reduce their blood pressure by modifying the 4 lifestyle factors alone, or by making these modifications while taking blood pressure–lowering medication,” Dr Jousilahti noted, although this study was focused on its prevention.