Charles Darwin may have declared survival the right of the fittest. But a new study in Hypertension has found that when it comes to preventing high blood pressure, inching your way up to merely “moderate” levels of fitness can still boost your odds considerably.
Researchers at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center focused on guys suffering from so-called pre-hypertension—with the top number of their blood pressure between 120 and 139, and the bottom number between 80 and 89. Some 39 percent of men fall into this category.
“Pre-hypertension can often start at a relatively young age, too,” adds lead researcher Peter Kokkinos, Ph.D., a professor at Georgetown and George Washington University School of Medicine. “It’s not unusual to see it in men by age 30.”
Other researchers have documented that 40 percent of those with pre-hypertension eventually progress to the full-blown variety, significantly jacking their risk of heart attacks, strokes, and premature death.
Between 1996 and 2009, Kokkinos and his team measured the fitness of over 10,000 male veterans via treadmill testing. They then classified the men into high-fit, moderately-fit, low-fit, and least-fit categories. Nearly a quarter of the 2,303 men were also diagnosed as pre-hypertensive.
Even after adjusting for age, body mass index, smoking, and diabetes, fitness proved powerfully protective. “Compared to the most-fit men, those in the low-fit category were 66 percent more likely to develop hypertension, and those in the least-fit were 75 percent more likely,” explains Kokkinos.
Moderately-fit men, on the other hand, enjoyed almost as many benefits as those in the high-fit group. “You must do enough to see benefits,” he says. “But above this point, you’ll eventually reach a plateau where doing more won’t add much.”
Bottom line: People who spend 20 to 40 minutes of brisk walking or slow jogging five or six days per week will see almost as many benefits as those who exercise considerably more. Additional exercise may help you be fitter or lose more weight, of course. But it won’t protect any further against hypertension, Kokkinos explains.