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Exercise Wards Off High Blood Pressure in African Americans

CardioSmart News

Physical activity is especially important for African-Americans who face increased rates of high blood pressure, based on a recent study that found regular exercise helps African-Americans reduce risk of developing high blood pressure up to 24%.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, this study looked at the impact of physical activity on high blood pressure risk in African-Americans.

African-Americans carry the highest rates of hypertension across all races and ethnicities in the United States, with one in ten African-American adults currently affected by high blood pressure. Hypertension also carries a much higher risk of heart events and death in African-Americans, making prevention key. While exercise is one important way to prevent high blood pressure, few studies have specifically demonstrated this effect in African-American populations.

To further explore the issue, researchers analyzed data from the Jackson Heart Study, which tracks the health and lifestyle of African-Americans in Jackson, Mississippi. The Jackson Heart Study is the largest investigation of heart disease in an African-American population and is critical to our understanding of heart risks among African-Americans.

The recent analysis included 1,311 adults, all of which were free of high blood pressure at the start of the study. Upon enrollment between 2000 and 2004, participants completed a detailed survey about their physical activity, as well as other health and lifestyle factors. Participants were then followed for roughly 8 years, tracking the development of high blood pressure and other health conditions.

Based on initial assessments, only 24% of adults got the recommended levels of exercise each week. The remaining 37% got some regular physical activity but fell short of current guidelines, and 39% of participants reported no regular exercise at all.

Current guidelines recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week like walking or jogging, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity.

After 8 years of follow-up, half of participants had developed high blood pressure and/or had started high blood pressure medication. Researchers found that adults engaging in regular exercise were significantly less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who didn’t.

Participants who were physically active but didn’t meet guidelines had 16% lower risk of developing high blood pressure than participants with no physical activity. Participants who engaged in the recommended levels of exercise had 24% lower risk of developing high blood pressure than inactive adults.

Researchers also found that participating in sport-related activities like basketball and softball were associated with lower risk of high blood pressure. More general types of activity like work-related or household physical activity had no significant impact on risk for hypertension.

Based on findings, authors conclude that regular exercise can help African-American adults prevent or at least delay the development of high blood pressure—a major risk factor for heart disease. While getting the recommended amounts of moderate to vigorous physical activity has the biggest impact on risk, engaging in at least some exercise helps reduce risk for high blood pressure in African-Americans.

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