Maintaining a healthy weight could be the key to keeping your blood pressure in check.

New research released Thursday indicates a healthy weight throughout your life can be more effective in controlling blood pressure over the long-term than exercise, diet, not smoking and reducing alcohol consumption.

“These results provide evidence that what we may want to do is focus on how we can create interventions that will enable individuals to maintain a normal body weight throughout their lifetimes,” said researcher John N. Booth III, Ph.D., whose work was presented during the American Heart Association and American Society of Hypertension Joint Scientific Sessions in San Francisco.

Controlling blood pressure is crucial because it’s a leading preventable cause of death and greatly increases risk for heart disease, stroke and other major health problems. It’s often referred to as the “silent killer” because it has no obvious symptoms.

Booth, a postdoctoral fellow of the AHA’s Strategically Focused Hypertension Research Network at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, noted there are clear benefits to all the healthy habits. “The other behaviors we studied may play an important role since they can influence body weight,” he said.

Researchers assessed 4,630 people ages 18 to 30. Their blood pressure and other behaviors were measured initially and eight more times over 25 years, starting in 1985. The researchers measured based on:

  • a healthy body weight, measured as a body mass index less than 25;
  • never smoking;
  • zero to seven alcoholic drinks weekly for women and zero to 14 for men;
  • 150 minutes or more moderate to vigorous physical activity per week; and
  • eating a healthy diet, based on adhering to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension eating plan.

Researchers found those who maintained optimal body weight were 41 percent less likely to have an increasing blood pressure as they aged. People who maintained at least four health behaviors were 27 percent more likely to have a normal blood pressure from early adulthood through middle age.

Maintaining physical activity and a healthy diet were not associated with changes in blood pressure, according to the study. Never smoking and maintaining no or moderate alcohol consumption were associated with less of an increase in blood pressure by middle age.