The World Health Organization says high blood pressure is a global problem.  According to the WHO, hypertension affects 20 percent of the world's population [1.3 billion of 6.7 billion].  It is associated with a greater risk of heart attack and stroke, but with some lifestyle changes, a new study says it can be controlled or even reduced.

Doctors say a blood pressure measurement of 120 over 80 is considered normal.  

But if your pressure is consistently 140 over 90 or higher, then many doctors diagnose that as hypertension.  Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can lead to stroke, heart disease or a heart attack.

Studies in the past have concluded that women are less prone to high blood pressure than men.  But newer findings show that as a woman get older, her risk of hypertension becomes the same as that of a man.

Dr. John Forman is with Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.  He and his colleagues have studied the risk of hypertension among 83,000 women during a 14 year period.

"In our study, we attempted to quantify just how much a woman could lower her risk of developing high blood pressure by following a combination of low-risk lifestyle factors," Dr. Forman said.

It sounds simple enough: exercise about 30 minutes a day, maintain a normal body weight by eating a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables and less red meat, keep alcohol consumption low, stay away from non-prescription pain relievers and take supplements of folic acid to prevent anemia.

Dr. Forman says the study showed that when women followed these guidelines, they lowered their risk of developing hypertension by 80 percent.  Well worth it, he says, for each woman and society as a whole.

"Individuals and society have the power," Dr. Forman explains. "By modifying diet, modifying lifestyle and other behaviors, the power to reduce the risk of developing a disease that has a staggering toll on public health."

Researchers found that lifestyle changes made a difference even among those with a family history of high blood pressure.  However, losing weight or maintaining normal weight, they say, may be the biggest challenge for many people.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.