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Blood Pressure Guidelines Call for Lifestyle Modifications

Kate Traynor

A report sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) emphasizes the importance of lifestyle changes in preventing primary hypertension.1

The guidelines, which were issued in October to update recommendations made in 1993, state that lifestyle modifications can be as powerful as drug therapy for reducing blood pressure and keeping it low. According to the report, blood pressure reduction strategies that begin early in life have the greatest long-term potential for preventing hypertension.

A general recommendation in the report is for people to consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products and to reduce total dietary fat and saturated fat intake. More specifically, the report recommends consuming no more than 6 g of sodium chloride (or 2.4 g of sodium) per day and limiting alcohol intake.

Because potassium supplementation has been found to reduce blood pressure, the guidelines also recommend the consumption of at least 3.5 g of potassium each day.

The recommendations to limit sodium and alcohol intake were originally made in 1993. Also repeated from 1993 are the recommendations to maintain a normal body weight and engage in at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity per day. The report praises weight-loss intervention programs, stating that the benefits of such programs in reducing blood >pressure can last after the intervention ends. As for aerobic activity, this recommendation is less stringent than the Institute of Medicine’s recent finding that an hour of moderately intense exercise per day is needed for good cardiovascular health.

According to the NHLBI report, calcium and fish-oil supplements provide only modest benefits in reducing blood pressure, and little clinical data exist to support the use of herbal or botanical products to combat hypertension.

  1. Whelton PK, He J, Appel LJ et al., for the National High Blood Pressure Education Program Coordinating Committee. Primary prevention of hypertension: clinical and public health advisory from the National High Blood Pressure Education Program. JAMA. 2002; 288:1882-8.