People who received regular lifestyle counselling online were able to lower their blood pressure as much as a medication would, researchers said yesterday.
Their study involved 264 people with high blood pressure and an average age of 58.
The subjects' average blood pressure began at around 140/90mmHg (millimetres of mercury), meaning they had what is clinically known as stage 1 hypertension.
Most were already taking at least one drug to cut their blood pressure. Patients enrolled through the website of the Heart and Stroke Association of Canada and were randomly assigned to either an e-counselling group or a control group.
Both groups received e-mails during the year-long trial, first weekly, then monthly.
Those in the e-counselling group were "provided links to online multimedia and interactive tools to increase motivation and skills to begin and sustain a heart-healthy lifestyle", the study said.
"These included video clips featuring characters discussing their own high blood pressure diagnosis and efforts to make lifestyle changes, as well as tools for tracking diet and level of physical activity."
The control group saw more generic information about heart-healthy living.
By the end of the study period, the more engaging online content seemed to have had an effect, and patients in that group reduced their systolic blood pressure - the higher number in a blood-pressure reading - by 10mmHg. That was a statistically significant difference compared with the control group, which saw a 6mmHg reduction.
"The electronic counselling intervention had an effect similar to that of adding an additional blood-pressure-lowering medication," said lead study author Robert Nolan of the University of Toronto. "We think this lifestyle counselling intervention can complement and optimise the effectiveness of medical therapy to reduce high blood pressure."