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You probably are aware that being overweight has a negative impact on your blood pressure, and that high blood pressure can lead to stroke and heart attack and even death. Losing weight is the obvious answer, but how much weight do you have to lose to make a difference in your heart health?
The answer is "a lot less than you might think": it appears that losing even small amounts of weight can help reduce your risk of high blood pressure—as long as you keep the weight off.
Analysis of a recent long-term study (Arch Intern Med. 2005; 165:1298-1303) focused on over 1200 overweight adults (that is, their Body Mass Index was 25 or over). They were otherwise “disease-free”: none of those subjects had been diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, cancer, or cardiovascular disease.
The study participants were grouped by age, 30-49 and 50-65, then subgroups were created of those participants who A) lost weight over the initial four years of the study, and B) those who did not lose weight or even gained weight.
After that initial four years, those who lost weight were again broken down into subgroups of C) those who maintained the weight loss (or lost more weight) and D) those who gained the weight back.
At the eight-year mark and thereafter, up to 48 years after the beginning of the study, all of the subjects were monitored for hypertension.
As you might expect, people who started out overweight and who did not lose any weight had the highest rates of hypertension. Also, the older group (ages 50-65) tended to have higher rates of high blood pressure than the younger group (ages 30-49), no matter whether they lost weight or not.
But when the scientists compared the rates of hypertension between those who lost weight and kept it off, as compared to those who gained it back or stayed the same, they found that those in the younger group who lost 6.8kg (about 15 pounds) and kept it off reduced their risk of high blood pressure by 21%. The older group reduced their risk by 29%!
Most significant, however, is that losing even a small amount of weight—as little as 1.8kg (about 4 pounds!)—had a similar effect on the rate of hypertension. The younger group who lost less weight still reduced their risk of high blood pressure by 22% and the older group reduced their risk by 26%.
Making improvements in your health doesn’t have to mean making drastic changes in your life—this study is proof that even small, sustained changes can have a dramatic impact.
December 19, 2005
Last updated: 02/02/06