Fit Men May Outrun High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure rises with age, but physical activity may delay this increase

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Doctors often use medicines and behavioral therapy to counteract risks associated with high blood pressure. But new research suggests the key to delaying high blood pressure may be exercise.

Blood pressure typically increases with age, depending on variables like family history and exercise.

In a recent study, men with higher fitness levels delayed this increase in blood pressure.

"Keep track of your blood pressure at home."

As it increases with age, high blood pressure (hypertension) can set the stage for medical problems like heart disease.

Junxiu Liu, MD, of the Arnold School of Public Health in Columbia, SC, and colleagues tested whether physical fitness over a lifetime could help patients buck that trend.

The authors studied 13,953 men between the ages of 20 and 90. Researchers followed up with them an average of nearly four times between 1970 and 2006.

"We now know that a man's hypertension development may be delayed by improving his fitness levels,” said study author Xuemei Sui, MD, PhD, in a press statement. “In other words, men with higher fitness levels experienced normal systolic blood pressure increases later in life than those with low fitness levels.”

Blood pressure, the force exerted by blood on arteries and vessels, is measured with systolic and diastolic readings. Systolic measures pressure when the heart beats. Diastolic measures pressure between beats.

Normal blood pressure is a systolic reading of less than 120 points and a diastolic reading of less than 80 points. High blood pressure is over 140 systolic and 90 diastolic.

The authors found that an average man with low fitness has prehypertension levels of systolic blood pressure around age 46 — and diastolic around age 42. Men with a high fitness level reached those same thresholds at ages 54 and 90, respectively.

Fitness levels were assessed using age, smoking status, alcohol consumption and body mass index, a height- and weight-based measure of body fat.

Dr. Liu said exercise is the most important driver of fitness.

“Our results underscore the importance for a man to increase his regular physical activity to prevent his natural, aging-related rise in blood pressure,” Dr. Liu said.

"There is variability as to how much certain forms of exercise influence blood pressure," said Rusty Gregory, a wellness coach, personal fitness trainer and author of "Self-Care Reform: How to Discover Your Own Path to Good Health" and "Living Wheat-Free For Dummies."

"The one constant is that systolic blood pressure is affected the most during exercise due to the fact that it is the pressure measurement when the heart is working. The diastolic pressure is less affected because it measures the amount of pressure between beats, or while the heart is at rest. This relatively constant reading is due to the vasodilation of the arteries," said Gregory, who was not involved in this study.

"Not only does moderate exercise help lower resting blood pressure in people who have elevated blood pressure, but it can also help prevent high blood pressure," he said. "Exercise increases the efficiency of each heart beat by pumping more blood per beat."

According to Gregory, "The best form of exercise to lower your blood pressure is aerobic exercise, i.e., walking, swimming, bicycle riding. An aerobic exercise bout of 20-30 minutes on most days of the week will help strengthen your heart and give you energy to feel great."

He added, "Exercise is also a terrific stress management technique. The more fit you are, the better you will be able to keep your blood pressure in check."

The study was published online Sept. 15 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The National Institutes of Health funded the study. Study author Steven Blair received funds from three private companies.

Review Date: 
September 15, 2014
Last Updated:
September 16, 2014