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Healthy Living: Dash Toward a Healthier Lifestyle

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We can do it - change our diets and exercise habits enough to significantly lower our blood pressure.

Recent research suggests that an overhaul of dietary and fitness habits to help prevent or control high blood pressure is feasible with proper coaching, contrary to the theory that the kind of changes necessary to lower blood pressure would be overwhelming for most people.

The study of 810 generally healthy people with above-optimal blood pressure found that those who combined the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet with weight loss, salt restriction and exercise cut their risk of developing hypertension by 53 percent.

And while they were provided health counseling and group support, they were on their own, like all the rest of us, when it came to purchasing and preparing food.

Participants who did best set goals to lose 15 pounds in six months, increase physical activity, lower sodium intake, limit alcohol to one or two drinks per day, increase intake of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods and reduce saturated fat and total fat.

The DASH diet, previously shown to reduce blood pressure when strictly followed, calls for seven to eight servings of grain, four to five servings each of fruits and vegetables and three servings of low-fat dairy products each day, as well as four to five servings of nuts, seeds or legumes each week.

Previous DASH studies have been highly controlled with all food provided and prepared for the participants. In the new study, successful participants increased their fruit and vegetable consumption from an average of 4.8 to 7.8 servings per day.

The study was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. It included people with stage one hypertension (blood pressure of 140 to 159/90 to 95). None of the participants took medications for hypertension.

"No previous study has tested the ability of people to adopt DASH on their own or its effectiveness in the real' world," says Dr. Laura Svetkey, director of the Duke Hypertension Center at Duke University Medical Center. "And no previous study has tested all the other recommendations for lowering blood pressure, either with or without DASH, as anall-in-one' intervention."

The study was conducted at Duke, Johns Hopkins, Pennington Biomedical Research Center and the Center for Health Research.

(C) 2003 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.. All Rights Reserved

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