If you’re one of the 1.3 billion adults in the world with high blood pressure, it might be time to hit the gym, according to new research.
A team of scientists from the University of Eastern Finland, in Kuopio, Finland, examined data collected from a group of 2,280 adult men. The data included blood pressure and cardiorespiratory fitness, which were determined by measuring blood oxygen levels while participants used a stationary bike. Original measurements were made between 1984 and 1989, and the participants were reevaluated periodically over the next 29 years.
The men were categorized based on blood pressure and fitness levels as follows: 1) normal blood pressure and high fitness; 2) normal blood pressure and low fitness; 3) high blood pressure and high fitness; 4) high blood pressure and low fitness.
Over the course of the 29-year follow-up period, 664 deaths related to cardiovascular disease were recorded. From this, researchers determined that high blood pressure resulted in a 39% increase in the risk of cardiovascular death, and low fitness resulted in a 74% increase in the risk of cardiovascular death.
How much more likely men with high blood pressure are to die from cardiovascular disease if they have low fitness compared to high fitness.
Importantly, the researchers found that men with high blood pressure and low fitness were twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease than men with normal blood pressure and high fitness. Men with high blood pressure and high fitness were still at elevated risk, but the increase was only 55% compared to the 100% increase for those in the high blood pressure, low fitness group.
These findings are especially relevant when there is a family history of high blood pressure. Maintaining a high or even moderate level of fitness may help offset a person’s predisposition to cardiovascular risk factors.
“Both high blood pressure and low fitness levels were each associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular death. High fitness levels attenuated, but did not eliminate, the increased risk of cardiovascular mortality in men with elevated blood pressure,” explained lead study author Professor Jari Laukkanen in a statement.
“Getting blood pressure under control should remain a goal in those with elevated levels. Our study indicates that men with high blood pressure should also aim to improve their fitness levels with regular physical activity,” Laukkanen said. “In addition to habitual exercise, avoiding excess body weight may enhance fitness.”