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Fight hypertension with exercise and weight-loss combo

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CHICAGO — Combining weight loss and exercise lowers blood pressure more effectively than exercise alone, according to a new study.

Though a healthy diet and exercise generally are recommended for the estimated 50 million Americans with hypertension, data have been mixed on their effectiveness without accompanying medication.

The study of 133 overweight men and women with untreated hypertension found that about an hour of exercise three to four times weekly for six months reduced blood pressure, and weight loss lowered it even more.

The findings appear in a recent Archives of Internal Medicine.

"These findings provide further evidence for the effectiveness of non-pharmacological approaches to treating hypertension," said Dr. James Blumenthal of Duke University Medical Center, the lead author of the study.

The participants' average age was 47. One group did aerobic exercise including jogging, resulting in an average weight loss of less than 4 pounds; the other combined the exercise with dieting, attaining an average weight loss of about 17 pounds.

All began with blood pressure ranging from high-normal — 130 over 85 — to 180 over 110. A measurement of 140 over 90 signals mild hypertension.

Members of the weight loss and exercise group lowered their systolic blood pressure, the top number, by an average of 7 points and their diastolic pressure, the bottom number, by an average of five points. The average reduction in the exercise only group was 4 points for both readings.

The authors noted that medication often is prescribed for people with high blood pressure, including those who can't lower it enough with diet or exercise. However, lifestyle changes usually are recommended first because drugs may be costly and have side effects.