Minimum Physical Activity Levels Not Enough to Prevent Hypertension

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Minimum Physical Activity Levels Not Enough to Prevent Hypertension

Getting the minimum currently recommended amount of physical activity isn’t enough to help prevent hypertension (high blood pressure) according to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Researchers have long known that more physical activity can help prevent or reverse hypertension, but current guidelines for physical activity when it comes to hypertension — the 2017 American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association guidelines — don’t include an optimum physical activity recommendation for young adults. The study authors were interested in finding out how physical activity levels throughout adulthood were linked to the risk of developing hypertension, and how these findings compared with the latest guidelines.

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The researchers looked at data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study, which recruited participants ages 18 to 30 in four U.S. cities in 1985 and 1986. These participants were followed for 30 years, with data from 5,115 people included in the latest analysis. As notes in an MSN article on the study, the researchers tracked not only participants’ physical activity over time, but also their smoking status, alcohol intake, and other lifestyle factors. Participants also had periodic health assessments as part of the study.

The researchers found that in every category of participants — men and women, Black and white — physical activity declined from age 18 to age 40, and that it fell even further as participants got older. Rates of hypertension also increased over the course of the study. Nearly half of young adults in the study didn’t get enough physical activity based on the 2017 guidelines, and this was linked to an increased risk of developing hypertension over time. But participants who got at least five hours of moderate exercise per week — about double the minimum amount recommended for adults — had a significantly lower risk for hypertension during the follow-up period, especially if they maintained this level of activity through age 60.

The researchers also found that physical activity patterns over time were different in Black versus white participants. While declining activity levels typically leveled off by age 40 among white participants, activity continued to drop over time in Black participants. By age 60, 80% to 90% of Black participants had hypertension, while fewer than 70% of white men and about 50% of white women had hypertension at this age.

The researchers concluded that young adulthood tended to be a period of declining physical activity, and that this decline was linked to the onset of hypertension. As a result, it makes sense to encourage younger adults to maintain their physical activity levels — but ideally at a level higher than the current minimum recommendations. “Achieving at least twice the current minimum adult [activity] guidelines may be more beneficial for the prevention of hypertension than simply meeting the minimum guidelines,” they wrote. “Public health interventions may emphasize longer durations of [activity] to prevent hypertension.”

Want to learn more about diabetes and high blood pressure? Read “Treating High Blood Pressure” and “Seven Little-Known Steps for Managing Your Blood Pressure.”

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Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

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A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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