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Healthy habits still vital after starting blood pressure, cholesterol medications

February 05, 2020

Research Highlights:
  • Heart-healthy lifestyle habits are always recommended whether blood pressure or cholesterol medications are prescribed or not, yet many patients let healthy habits slip after starting the prescription drugs.
  • In a Finnish study, people who started blood pressure or cholesterol medications were more likely to gain weight and exercise less compared to those who didn't take these medications.
DALLAS, February 5, 2020 -- Heart-healthy lifestyle modifications are always recommended whether blood pressure or cholesterol medications are prescribed or not. However, a new study found that many patients let these healthy habits slip after starting the prescription medications, according to new research published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the open access journal of the American Heart Association.

Finnish researchers found patients at risk for heart disease and stroke who took cholesterol or blood pressure lowering medications were more likely to reduce their activity levels and gain weight.

"Medication shouldn't be viewed as a free-pass to continue or start an unhealthy lifestyle. Our research sought to determine if people who started medications were making the lifestyle changes necessary to see health benefits," said Maarit J. Korhonen, Ph.D., lead author of the study and senior researcher at the University of Turku in Finland.

Researchers studied more than 40,000 public-sector workers (average age 52, more than 80% female) in Finland who had not been previously diagnosed with heart disease or stroke. Participants were given two or more surveys in 4-year intervals from 2000?2013. The surveys included a baseline and follow up questionnaire to assess BMI, physical activity, alcohol consumption and smoking history. Pharmacy data of participants was also obtained to determine if they began taking the prescribed high blood pressure or statin medications.

Participants' medication use was categorized by those who began the preventive medications between the baseline and 4-year follow-up surveys, and those who did not start medications. The researchers found that compared to those who did not start medications, those who did:
  • Were more likely to reduce their physical activity and were 8% more likely to become physically inactive;
  • Were 82% more likely to become obese or have an increase in body mass index;
  • Were 26% more likely to quit smoking; and
  • Reduced their alcohol consumption.
While people often gain weight when they stop smoking, this did not explain the BMI increase found in the study. Participants who took their medications and stopped smoking gained more weight than those who didn't take medications and stopped smoking.

"People starting on medications should be encouraged to continue or start managing their weight, be physically active, manage alcohol consumption and quit smoking," Korhonen said.

The analysis was limited by the lack of additional details about the respondents' diets, blood pressure measurements and cholesterol levels. This study was in Finland, where a large public health effort aimed at preventing and managing diabetes was initiated during the study period and may not be generalizable to people in countries without comparable programs and resources. In addition, participants in this study were white and predominantly female public-sector workers, therefore, the results may not be generalizable to more diverse populations.
-end-
Co-authors are Jaana Pentti, B.Sc.; Juha Hartikainen, M.D., Ph.D.; Jenni Ilomäki, Ph.D.; Soko Setoguchi, M.D., Dr. P.H.; Danny Liew, Ph.D.; Mika Kivimäki, F.Med.Sci.; and Jussi Vahtera, M.D., Ph.D.

The study was supported by the Academy of Finland.

Additional Resources:Statements and conclusions of study authors published in American Heart Association scientific journals are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the Association's policy or position. The Association makes no representation or guarantee as to their accuracy or reliability. The Association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific Association programs and events. The Association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and device corporations and health insurance providers are available at https://www.heart.org/en/about-us/aha-financial-information.

About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public's health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.

American Heart Association

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