New studies indicate that even minor lifestyle changes increase heart health, providing hope that drastic changes aren't necessary to benefit the body.
Study Proves Simple Lifestyle Changes Increase Heart Health
A study conducted by researchers in North Carolina looked at how a 16-week lifestyle change would affect instances of hypertension. Their findings, which were disclosed at the American Heart Association's Joint Hypertension 2018 Scientific Sessions, showed that the need for medication was decreased in the test subjects. The research evaluated results in 129 men and women ranging in age from 40 - 80 who were either clinically obese or significantly overweight and who had been diagnosed with high blood pressure. While all of the test subjects did qualify for hypertension medication, none were taking drugs through the study period.
The individuals were separated into three groups for the purpose of the study. Group one was asked to comply with the DASH diet, a plant-based diet that's specifically designed to benefit heart health. This diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and whole grains, while also permitting poultry, beans and fat-free dairy products. Saturated fats are avoided as much as possible. Group one also attended counseling sessions and participated in monitored exercise sessions three days per week. Group two was asked to adhere to the same DASH diet, but otherwise their lifestyles were unchanged. The third group was allowed to live as they normally would, including eating their regular diet.
Group one benefited the most within the 16-week study, lowering their blood pressure levels and reducing weight. On average, they lost 19 pounds each and dropped their blood pressure by 16 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) systolic and 10 mm Hg diastolic. Group two did achieve some benefit from adhering to the diet alone, dropping their blood pressure levels by 11 mm Hg systolic and 8 mm Hg diastolic on average. The final group exhibited an average blood pressure drop of 3 mm Hg systolic and 4 mm Hg diastolic.
At the end of the study, each participant was examined to determine which individuals still qualified for hypertension medication. Only 23 percent of the participants from groups one and two still met the criteria for hypertension medication. Of the first group, which involved the DASH diet combined with exercise and counseling, only 15 percent still qualified for medication.
Dr. Alan Hinderliter, who led the study at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, says the results show that even brief lifestyle modifications can affect heart health. Slight modifications to one's lifestyle can be enough change to eliminate the need for medication that lowers blood pressure. Dr. Hinderliter suggests more research should be done on the effects lifestyle has on blood pressure and hypertension. However, the American Heart Association (AHA) already recommends switching to a healthier diet and increasing physical activity to benefit overall health.
Taking Regular Walks May Prevent Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart isn't pumping blood as efficiently as it should, and may be the result of a weakened heart. It can also be caused by the stiffening of the heart muscles. The condition affects more than 5 million people of all ages, but it's found to be most common in women over the age of retirement. A lifetime of smoking, poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles are the common causes of congestive heart failure.
A research team in Buffalo, New York wanted to examine how lifestyle changes increase heart health. Their goal was to see if two specific types of heart failure, reduced ejection heart failure (HFrEF) and preserved ejection fraction heart failure (HFpEF), could be prevented through changes in one's lifestyle. The study was headed up by Michael LaMonte, an associate professor at the University of Buffalo. In HFrEF, the left side of the heart isn't pumping enough blood to supply the rest of the body. Conversely, HFpEF is a condition in which enough blood is pumped from the heart, but the ventricles can't hold enough of that blood to fuel the body. In the latter case, the ventricles become stiff, or they may shrink in size, so there's not a large enough capacity. HFrEF is fatal more often, but HFpEF is more common, affecting women and minorities.
Researchers examined records for 137,303 participants in a Women's Health Initiative survey. The survey provided insight into the health of postmenopausal women, particularly with how physical activity related to their overall health. The survey allowed LeMonte's group to isolate 35,272 women who suffered from one or the other of the two types of heart failure their own research intended to examine. They found that walking significantly impacted heart health in women over 60 years of age. Spending just 30 to 45 minutes engaged in physical exercise each day helped to reduce the chances of heart failure by 9 percent. More specifically, the risks of developing HFpEF was cut by 8 percent, while physical activity cut the risks of HFrEF by a 10 percent margin.
What was interesting to the researchers was that the intensity level of exercise didn't affect the findings. The results were the same, whether the women walked, jogged or engaged in other activities. The only determining factor was the amount of time spent engaged in the physical activity. As long as they engaged in 30-45 minutes of activity, they did benefit from improved heart health.
These findings provide hope for older adults who may want to act to change their heart health statuses. The research indicates that making drastic changes or overexerting oneself aren't necessary for improving heart health. By simply selecting physical activities you enjoy, such as walking through a park, and participating in them regularly, your heart health can improve.