When it comes to exercising for heart health, you don’t want to peak too early in life. Recent research suggests that if you want to protect yourself from high blood pressure as you age, you’ll need to play the long game and keep up your exercise levels until middle age.
But according to a study of more than 5,000 people in 4 US cities, social factors may make it more difficult for some people to do so than others.
“Teenagers and their early 20s may be more physically active but these patterns change with age,” said study author and epidemiologist Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The work was published in April 2021 American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Several studies have shown that exercise lowers blood pressure, but new work suggests that “maintaining physical activity throughout young adulthood — at a higher level than previously recommended — may be especially important.” “To prevent high blood pressure,” Bibbins-Domingo said.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a serious condition affecting billions of people worldwide. This can lead to heart attack and stroke; It is also a risk factor for developing dementia in later life.
According to the World Health Organization, one in four men and about one in five women have high blood pressure. But most people with high blood pressure don’t even know they have it—hence why it’s often called the “silent killer.”
Yet there are ways to lower high blood pressure: exercise is the focus of this study.
The study recruited more than 5,100 adults who tracked their health over three decades with physical assessments and questionnaires about their exercise habits, smoking status, and alcohol consumption.
In each clinical assessment, blood pressure was measured three times, one minute apart, and for data analysis, participants were divided into four categories based on race and gender.
Across the board – in men, women and both racial groups – physical activity levels dropped from age 18 to 40, With increasing rates of hypertension and declining physical activity in subsequent decades.
According to the researchers, this suggests that young adulthood is an important window for interventions to prevent mid-life hypertension with health promotion programs designed to promote exercise.
“About 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,” said lead author Jason Nagata, a UCSF specialist said. Young adult medicine.
When researchers looked at people who got five hours of moderate exercise a week during early adulthood — more than twice the currently recommended minimum amount for adults — they found that this level of activity significantly reduced the risk of high blood pressure, And especially if people maintain their exercise habits until the age of 60.
“Getting at least twice the current minimum adult [physical activity] Guidelines may be more beneficial for the prevention of hypertension than simply meeting minimum guidelines,” the researchers wrote in their paper.
But in the midst of life-changing decisions and increasing responsibilities, it’s not easy to ramp up weekly physical activity.
“This may be especially the case after high school when opportunities for physical activity decrease as young adults transition to college, the workforce and parenthood, and leisure time decreases,” Nagata said.
For a more grim truth, the study also showed how black men and black women experience different health trajectories than their white counterparts. At age 40, physical activity levels stabilized among white men and women, while activity levels continued to decline among black participants.
For 45 years, black women outperformed white men in their rates of high blood pressure, while the white women in the study experienced the lowest rates of high blood pressure through mid-life.
And by age 60, 80 to 90 percent of black men and women had high blood pressure, compared to less than 70 percent of white men and nearly half of white women.
The research team pinned these well-known racial disparities to a multitude of social and economic factors; Not that these factors were evaluated in this study, although high school education was mentioned.
“Although black male youth may have higher engagement in sports, socioeconomic factors, neighborhood environments, and work or family responsibilities, continued engagement in physical activity through adulthood may be stunted,” Nagata said.
The study was published in American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
A version of this article was originally published in April 2021.