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Are You Chained to Your Pillbox?

What to do to curb your need for drugs that treat high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and osteoarthritis.

Hypertension continued...

“Say that you’re a 250-pound man with a BMI of 29,” Harlan says. “If you lose about 20 pounds, you may be able to go off your blood pressure medication altogether. I see this every single day in my practice. People who really embrace this and work at losing weight will do great.”

With more severe hypertension and more significant obesity -- like Silber Korn’s -- it may take longer to get off medication, but it can still often be done with lifestyle changes, Harlan says.

One diet that has been found to lower the average systolic blood pressure an average of 5 points -- which is about what you can expect from most blood pressure medications -- is the American Heart Association’s DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, www.dashdiet.org), combined with reduced salt intake.

Another healthy diet that has been found to reduce hypertension is the so-called “Mediterranean diet.” It’s not as exotic as many people think -- that is, you don’t need to be eating Greek salads and hummus every day. “The Mediterranean diet just means eating more legumes, fruits and nuts, and vegetables; more fish, leaner meats, less dairy, whole grains, and alcohol in moderation, plus much more unsaturated than saturated fats,” Harlan says. “That’s all it is.”

Exercise by itself -- even without weight loss -- can reduce your blood pressure, although whether it’ll be enough on its own to get you off medication is another question.

“In the short term after you exercise, your blood pressure will be up. But after you’ve been exercising aerobically -- that means moderate to vigorous exercise for at least half an hour most days of the week -- for about two months, you’ll have a lower resting blood pressure,” Wilbur says.

Two months? It’s true, Wilbur says -- lifestyle changes are not a quick fix for any of these conditions. You could take medication and see significant changes in just a couple of weeks. “But these are lifelong issues. Do you want to have to take all these pills for the rest of your life?”

Diabetes

Just as with hypertension, losing a small amount of weight -- sometimes as little as 10-15 pounds, according to the American Diabetes Association -- can lower blood sugar. Exercise also helps to keep blood sugar in better balance, experts say.

So what’s the best diet to help you lose weight if you have diabetes? Because you don’t want wild swings in your blood sugar, it’s particularly important to consult your doctor when making major dietary changes. But a low-fat diet diet and the Mediterranean diet have been found to significantly improve blood sugar, although the Mediterranean approach seems to top the charts.

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