Brisk Walks May Lower Death Risk in Hypertensive Seniors

Moderate exercise in men 70 and older with high blood pressure leads to longer life

(RxWiki News) There may be a simple way elderly men can prolong their life if they have high blood pressure, and it doesn’t involve medication or surgery.

Researchers found that brisk walking on a regular basis helped those who were old and had high blood pressure live longer than others with the same problem who didn’t exercise.

"Ask your doctor how much exercise is safe for you."

This study was led by Charles Faselis, MD, of George Washington University in Washington, DC.

The researchers studied 2,153 men from the Washington, DC and Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Medical Centers who underwent routine exercise tolerance testing between 1996 and the end of 2012. All the men were 70 years old or older, and all had high blood pressure.

The fitness level of the men was assessed with a standard treadmill exercise test. Peak workload was estimated in METs (metabolic equivalents). A MET is defined as the amount of oxygen the body uses per kilogram of body weight per minute. One MET is the amount of energy expended at rest.

The men were followed for about nine years. In that time, 1,039 men died.

The researchers found that the risk of death was 11 percent lower for every one-MET increase in exercise capacity.

The 386 men who were the least fit (called very-low-fit) had a MET level of 4 or lower. The 1,058 men whose peak workload was 4.1 to 6 METs were considered to be low-fit. A total of 495 men were in the moderate-fit category with METs of 6.1 to 8. Finally, 214 men were considered the most fit (called high-fit) with METs of 8 or more.

When researchers assessed how fit the men were, they found that the risk of dying was 18 percent lower for the men in the low-fit group than men in the very-low-fit group. The men considered to be moderately fit had a 36 percent lower mortality (death) risk than the least fit group. Men who were the most fit were 48 percent less likely to die than men who were the least fit.  

In a press release, Peter Kokkinos, PhD, senior author of this study and professor at Veterans Affairs Medical Center, put these numbers in perspective. "For every 100 people who died in the least-fit category, 82 died in the low-fit, 64 in the moderate-fit and 52 in the high-fit categories," Dr. Kokkinos said. "The death rate is cut in half for those in the highest fitness category."

The study authors noted that the benefits of exercise were great, even for those who exercised less than others. At 70 years of age, even moderate levels of activity, such as brisk walking for 20-30 minutes per day, three to six days a week, were very beneficial in terms of longevity among men with high blood pressure, these authors wrote.

“Since walking requires virtually no instructions, has a relatively low cost, carries a low risk of injury, and can be easily implemented to large populations, it may constitute an effective intervention to mitigate the deleterious effects of hypertension in the elderly," the authors wrote.

These authors mentioned a few limitations of their study, including that no women were included, and fitness was assessed only at the start of the study.

"This study adds to our  understanding of the importance of exercise, no matter what your age, “ said Sarah Samaan, MD, a cardiologist with Legacy Heart Center in Plano, Texas.

“Even light activity can lower the risk of death substantially. While it's true that aging may bring with it problems such as arthritis and general frailty, most people are capable of some form of exercise, even if it's just light walking or riding a stationary bike at a low setting. In fact, by strengthening the muscles and bones, exercise may actually help to ward off joint stiffness and pain," Dr. Samaan told dailyRx News.

She did add a word of caution. “If you're new to exercise, check in with your doctor before going all in," Dr. Samaan recommended. "Since exercise can often safely lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, track these numbers. You may find that over time you need less medication to control these conditions. And when it seems easier to just stay planted in front of the TV or computer screen, remind yourself that a simple exercise commitment of 30 minutes 5 days a week can add years of better health to your life.”

This study appeared in Hypertension May 12.

The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
May 12, 2014