Here's How Much Exercise Works Best For Controlling Your Blood Pressure

You don't want to peak too early in life when it comes to exercising for heart health. If you want to protect yourself against high blood pressure as you age, you need to play the long game and keep your exercise levels up through middle age, according to recent research.

A study of more than 5,000 people in 4 US cities found that social factors can make this more difficult for some people.
"Teenagers and those in their early 20s may be physically active, but these patterns change with age," said study author and epidemiologist. The work was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The new work suggests that maintaining physical activity during young adulthood may be more important than previously thought for preventing hypertension.

Billions of people worldwide are affected by high blood pressure. It's a risk factor for developing dementia in later life and can lead to heart attack and stroke.

According to the World Health Organization, one in four men and one in five women have high blood pressure. Most people with high blood pressure don't even know they have it.

The focus of the study is on exercise and how it can turn high blood pressure around.

The study tracked the health of 5,100 adults over three decades with physical assessments and questionnaires about their exercise habits, smoking status, and alcohol intake.

Blood pressure was measured three times a minute apart, and participants were grouped into four categories based on race and gender.

Rates of hypertension and physical activity fell over the course of decades, with levels of physical activity falling for both men and women.

According to the researchers, young adulthood is an important window for intervening to prevent midlife hypertension with health promotion programs designed to boost exercise.

The authors of the study said that they need to raise the minimum standard for physical activity for young adults because nearly half of them had low levels of physical activity.

The researchers found that people who did five hours of moderate exercise a week in early adulthood were less likely to have hypertension than people who did less.

"Achieving at least twice the current minimum adult physical activity guidelines may be more beneficial for the prevention of hypertension than simply meeting the minimum guidelines," the researchers wrote.

It's not easy to increase weekly physical activity when you're juggling life changing decisions and growing responsibilities.

When opportunities for physical activity diminish as young adults transition to college, the workforce, and parenthood, and leisure time is eroded, this might be especially the case after high school.

The study showed how Black men and Black women experience vastly different health outcomes compared to their White counterparts. White men and women were not as active at 40 years of age as Black participants were.

By 45 years, Black women had higher rates of hypertension than White men, while White women had lower rates.

Between 80 to 90 percent of Black men and women had hypertension by the age of 60, compared with just under 70 percent of White men and half of White women.
Although high school education was noted in the study, the research team did not assess the factors that led to the racial disparity.

"Although Black male youth may have high engagement in sports, the environment in which they live and their family responsibilities may prevent them from continuing to engage in physical activity through adulthood," Nagata said.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine published the study.

The original article was published in April 2021.