Americans are beginning to understand that healthy eating and a regular exercise routine can lower blood pressure and cholesterol and improve heart health resulting in longer, healthier lives.

Margaret Smith is learning how to lower her blood pressure.  By eating foods high in protein, like garbanzo beans and chicken, and foods high in monounsaturated fat, like olive oil, canola oil and almonds, she has lowered her blood pressure from 150 over 90 to 132 over 83.

Ms. Smith, who recently participated in a study at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland says, "I really believe in eating right and eating healthily and this gave me the opportunity to really see the results of a positive diet."

One hundred sixty people with high blood pressure participated in the study to determine the effect diet had on high blood pressure and cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease or stroke. 

Reducing the amount of saturated fat in the diet has been widely recommended to prevent cardiovascular disease.  But previous studies did not look at what could replace saturated fats.

Dr. Lawrence Appel explains. "The study involved three diets. One diet that is rich in carbohydrates, another diet that is rich in protein, about half from plant sources, and a third diet that is rich in monounsaturated fat."

Results of the study were recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

Doctors concluded that partial substitution of carbohydrates with either protein or monounsaturated fat could further lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. 

Dr. Appel adds, "It turns out that the lowest levels of blood pressure and cholesterol levels were on the protein diet and on the monounsaturated fat diet."

In another study scientists have calculated the amount of time you can add to your life by regular exercise.

More than 5,000 residents of the northeastern state of Massachusetts participated in a study over 46 years.  The study is called the Framingham Heart Study, named after the city where the study took place. 

People who reported moderate to high physical activity levels could expect to live nearly 1.5 to 3.5 years longer than those who exercised less. 

The study concluded that just 30 minutes a day of brisk walking could prolong life.  The more time you spend exercising now, the more time you'll have later.