May 17, 2019 is World Hypertension Day. This global, annual event is held to increase awareness of high blood pressure, which raises our risk of heart disease, kidney problems, stroke, vision loss and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Many Americans believe that hypertension is just a part of growing older, and assume that our blood pressure inevitably continues to elevate through the years. You can’t blame us for thinking that, because for most of the Western world, that pattern is pretty much the norm. But in fact, rising blood pressure is a byproduct of our modern lifestyle, suggests a 2018 study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Assistant professor Noel Mueller, Ph.D., and his team traveled to the remote South American rainforest to study the Yanomami, an isolated tribe who live as hunter-gatherers. Testing the blood pressure of the Yanomami, the researchers found that blood pressure levels were virtually the same across different age groups.

“The idea that rising blood pressure is a result of aging is a widely held belief in cardiology, but our findings add to evidence that rising blood pressure may be an avoidable consequence of Western diet and lifestyle rather than aging itself,” said Mueller. He noted that atherosclerosis and obesity are also almost unknown among these people.

Could it just be that the Yanomami have great genes? The researchers thought of that, so they compared the Yanomami blood pressure readings with those of a nearby tribe, the Yekwana, who have been more exposed to Western influence in diet, most specifically processed foods. They found that unlike the Yanomami, the Yekwana do experience a rise in blood pressure over the years (though not to the degree that Westerners do).

What lessons can we learn from this study? The Yanomami diet is low in fat and salt, and high in fruits, vegetables and fiber—an admirable dietary goal for any of us. Though processed foods are such a major part of our diet, we can make choices to avoid them. Put down that Oreo package and pick up a bunch of grapes! Swap whole grain for processed. Be diligent in avoiding added salt in foods. (Find some great tips in the this blog post.)

Physical activity is also likely a factor in the healthy blood pressure of the Yanomami. Find ways to add more exercise to your life. Exercise is also a great stress-buster, and that’s good too. Talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes that can help you manage your hypertension.

Source: IlluminAge reporting on a study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor about lifestyle choices that can help you prevent or manage hypertension.