The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Keep A Sharp Mind By Minding Your Blood Pressure

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Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010

Ninety percent of Americans will have high blood pressure by the time they kick the bucket.  One-half of Americans over the age of 60 currently have high blood pressure. 

The fact that high blood pressure increases risk for stroke and heart disease makes it something everyone should pay attention to.  The urgency is compounded by the more recent findings that high blood pressure is associated with increased risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Changes in diet, increased physical activity, weight loss, and of course, medications have been shown to reduce blood pressure.  But the prevalence of high blood pressure and its dire impact on multiple organs from the heart to the brain make it imperative that we find new treatments to reduce its impact. 

A new study has shown that a combined approach of diet, physical activity, and weight loss can significantly reduce blood pressure and improve cognitive function – in just four months1.   In this study, 126 overweight men and women were randomized to one of three groups:

  1. Control group – no changes in diet, physical or body weight
  2. DASH Diet – low-sodium, low-fat diet that stresses high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nonfat dairy foods
  3. DASH Diet + weight loss – same as group #2 plus additional education on calorie restriction and 30 minutes of physical activity 3 times per week

The results?  Both the DASH Diet and DASH + weight loss groups significantly lowered blood pressure.  In addition, the DASH group and the DASH + weight loss group significantly improved some measures of  cognitive function.  The positive findings were especially remarkable for people with the most advanced states of cardiovascular disease.

Get Ahead of the High Blood Pressure Curve

While the current data suggest that just about everyone will have high blood pressure at some point in their life, there are things you can do that may protect your heart and your brain from the ill effects of high blood pressure.

Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if you are overweight.

Be physically active – Doing something is better than doing nothing.  Work up to doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week. 

Eat a DASH-style diet – Include lots of fruits and veggies and whole grains.  Include nonfat milk products and limit sodium and fat.  For more information about the DASH diet, click here

1 Smith PJ, et al.  Effects of the dietary approaches to stop hypertension diet, exercise, and caloric restriction on neurocognition in overweight adults with high blood pressure.
Hypertension. 2010 Mar 19. [Epub ahead of print]