SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Most people naturally start to slow down a bit as they get older. Even a 30-year-old probably doesn’t have the same pep they did at 20 years-old. Now, a new study is providing more motivation keep those muscles pumping, regardless of your age. Researchers from the University of California-San Francisco say younger people need at least five hours of exercise each week to stave off high blood pressure later on in life. That’s double the amount of previous health recommendations.
Dubbed the “silent killer,” high blood pressure can lead to heart attacks, stroke, and even dementia in older patients. It’s also one of the hallmark symptoms of cardiovascular disease, the number one killer globally.
Current guidelines advise a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. However, the new study finds doubling that may protect against hypertension, particularly if sustained through your 30s, 40s, and 50s.
“Teenagers and those in their early 20s may be physically active but these patterns change with age. Our study suggests that maintaining physical activity during young adulthood – at higher levels than previously recommended – may be particularly important,” senior author Professor Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo says in a university release.
Stark differences between men and women
Study authors tracked over 5,000 18 to 30-year-olds over three decades, with 51.6 percent of the participants being Black. The rest of group was white. Researchers asked each person about their exercise habits, medical history, smoking status, and alcohol use. They also monitored the group’s blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, and triglycerides.
The study used the standard threshold for hypertension, which is blood pressure rising above 130/80 mmHg according to the American Heart Association. When researchers looked at the 17.9 percent who had moderate exercise for at least five hours a week in early adulthood, hypertension rates fell by 18 percent. Results show the likelihood of high blood pressure was even lower among the nearly 12 percent of participants maintaining their exercise habits until age 60.
First author Dr. Jason Nagata says doctors should being asking patients about physical activity in the same way they routinely check a person’s blood pressure, obesity, and smoking risks.
Black women have high rates of obesity and smoking, and low rates of physical activity, Nagata adds. Researchers believe this is an important group to focus on in regards to healthy interventions.
“Nearly half of our participants in young adulthood had suboptimal levels of physical activity, which was significantly associated with the onset of hypertension, indicating that we need to raise the minimum standard for physical activity,” Dr. Nagata says.
“This might be especially the case after high school when opportunities for physical activity diminish as young adults transition to college, the workforce and parenthood, and leisure time is eroded.”
Hypertension is a nationwide problem
The CDC says nearly half of all adults in the U.S. have hypertension, roughly 108 million people. The study finds Black men were the most active group in early adulthood, exercising slightly more than their white peers and much more than Black or white women.
However, by the time these participants reached 60, activity levels dropped back to the minimum recommendation of two-and-a-half hours weekly. This was substantially less exercise than white men, who still averaged 215 minutes of exercise, and roughly the same as white women. Black women had the least exercise throughout the study, with declines over time of around 100 minutes later in life.
“Although Black male youth may have high engagement in sports, socioeconomic factors, neighborhood environments, and work or family responsibilities may prevent continued engagement in physical activity through adulthood,” Nagata adds.
Study authors also find Black men also had the highest rates of smoking, which the team warns can undo the benefits of physical activity. Physical activity for white men declined in their 20s and 30s, before stabilizing around age 40. For white women, it hovered around 190 minutes in their 20s, dipped in their 30s, and remained constant by age 60.
Rates of hypertension mirrored this declining physical activity. Approximately 80 to 90 percent of Black men and women had hypertension by age 60. For comparison, just under 70 and 50 percent of white men and women had the condition, respectively.
“Results from randomized controlled trials and observational studies have shown that exercise lowers blood pressure, suggesting that it may be important to focus on exercise as a way to lower blood pressure in all adults as they approach middle age,” Prof. Bibbins-Domingo concludes.
The findings appear in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
SWNS writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.