The CARDIA study followed 5115 adults in nine separate examinations over a period of 30-40 years, from ages 18-60. By age 60, 73.1 percent of the subjects in this study had developed high blood pressure, and the lower the level of physical activity, the more likely a person was to develop high blood pressure (Am J of Prevent Med, Mar 4, 2021;S0749-3797(21)00077-5). The researchers found that you can help to reduce your risk for high blood pressure after age 60 by:
• exercising moderately for at least five hours weekly at a younger age, and
• continuing an exercise program into middle age and beyond.
Five hours of moderate exercise is double the U.S. minimum recommendation for physical activity for young adults.
Consequences of High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure affects more than two-thirds of middle-aged Americans (Hypertension, 2018;71(6):e140–e144) and puts you at increased risk for suffering a heart attack, stroke, or damage to other organs in your body. Lowering high blood pressure helps to protect you from these complications (JAMA, 1970;213:1143-52).
More than 60 years ago, researchers showed that regular exercise helps to protect you from heart disease and premature death (Lancet, 1953;2:1111-20), and the more regularly you exercise, the greater the protection (NEJM, 1984;311:874-7; Curr Hypertens Rep, 2013; 15: 659-668). Regular exercisers have significantly lower blood pressures than non-exercisers (Am J Hypertens, 1989;2:60), and those who do not exercise regularly are at much higher risk for developing high blood pressure in the future (JAMA, 1984;252:487-90).
Do You Have High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is usually at its lowest at bedtime. Your resting blood pressure is too high if it is:
• above 120/80 when you are lying in bed before you go to sleep at night or before you get up in the morning, or
• above 140/100 at other times.
You can’t depend completely on blood pressure measurements done in a doctor’s office because “white coat syndrome,” (feeling nervous or stressed), walking around, or an improperly-taken measurement can raise blood pressure considerably. I think that everyone should have their own upper-arm blood pressure cuff (wrist cuffs are not very dependable). They are inexpensive and are available at any drug store or online.
Exercise is often prescribed as part of the treatment for high blood pressure and it is usually safe for people with high blood pressure to exercise. However, many people who have high blood pressure already have heart disease and do not know it. People who have high blood pressure should check with their doctors, particularly if they are starting or increasing an exercise program. If you continue to have high blood pressure, you will probably need to take medications to lower it.
• High blood pressure puts you at increased risk for heart disease.
• Exercise at a young age and continuing to exercise through the middle and later years helps to control blood pressure and to prevent heart disease.
• Other risk factors for heart disease include a pro-inflammatory diet, overweight and obesity, smoking, and taking more than one alcoholic drink a day.
Gabe Mirkin, M.D., is a sports medicine doctor and fitness guru. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin has run more than 40 marathons and is now a serious tandem bike rider with his wife, Diana. His website is http://drmirkin.com/. Click to read Gabe’s full bio.