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Among study participants, researchers said Black women got the least amount of exercise. Bernard Bodo/Getty Images
  • Researchers say increasing the amount of exercise you do in a week can lower your risk of high blood pressure after age 40.
  • They noted that the correlation was strongest when it came to Black men.
  • Experts say the most important factor is how much exercising you are doing now, not how much you did in the past.

To avoid high blood pressure when you’re older, you need to exercise more when you’re younger — and not slack off even when you start hitting those big, round-number birthdays.

That may mean more weekly exercise than is currently recommended by federal guidelines. Although, experts say almost any amount of activity can help.

Adults under age 30 who get about 5 hours per week of moderate intensity exercise are less likely to have hypertension during midlife, according to a new study.

That’s double the 2.5 hours of moderate exercise currently recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco’s (UCSF) Benioff Children’s Hospitals found that the almost 18 percent of study participants who got at least 5 hours of moderate exercise weekly had an 18 percent lower risk of developing hypertension than those who exercised less.

“There is a dose response with exercise, and more is better,” Glenn Gaesser, PhD, an Arizona State University professor of exercise physiology, told Healthline.

Remaining active through your 30s, 40s, and 50s is important for managing your blood pressure as you get older, according to the study.

The study participants who exercised at least 5 hours weekly up until age 60 lowered their risk of high blood pressure even more, the study authors reported.

The researchers tracked 5,000 adults in the United States, starting while they were ages 18 to 30 and continuing for 30 years.

They found that hypertension rates mirrored activity levels over the decades. As participants exercised less as they got older, their blood pressure increased.

Past research has shown that exercise can lower blood pressure. Gaesser said that other studies also have shown that hypertension risk drops steadily as exercise output rises from sedentary through moderate activity to high intensity workouts.

“Teenagers and those in their early 20s may be physically active, but these patterns change with age,” Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a senior study author and a professor in the UCSF department of epidemiology and biostatistics, told Healthline.“Our study suggests that maintaining physical activity during young adulthood — at higher levels than previously recommended — may be particularly important.”

The association between fitness and hypertension was particularly pronounced among Black men, the study found.

In early adulthood, Black men were found to be more active, on average, than white men, white women, and Black women.

By age 60, however, exercise among Black men had fallen to almost half of what it had been when they were younger adults. By that age, 80 to 90 percent of Black men had high blood pressure, about the same rate as for Black women (who exercised far less when they were young) and significantly more than among white men (70 percent) and white women (50 percent).

In the study, weekly exercise was measured by units, with 300 units being the equivalent of 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise.

At ages 18 to 30, Black men got around 560 units of exercise weekly. By age 60, that had fallen to 300 units.

“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,” Dr. Jason Nagata, a first study author and an assistant professor in the UCSF division of adolescent and young adult medicine, told Healthline.

Black men also were more likely to be smokers, Nagata added.

Information was gathered on participants’ exercise habits, medical history, alcohol and tobacco use, as well as their blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

The study group was split almost evenly between Black and white adults, with slightly more women than men participating.

Black women did the least amount of exercise throughout the study and, by age 60, got only about 200 exercise units weekly.

Exercise rates were somewhat more consistent over time among white study participants.

Physical activity for white men declined in their 20s and 30s but stabilized at around age 40. Among white women, physical activity generally stayed around 380 exercise units, dipping in their 30s but remaining constant thereafter, at least until age 60.

Gaesser said that while it would be ideal to get more than the minimum amount of exercise in the federal guidelines, even minimal exercise can help lower blood pressure.

“Anyone at any age can benefit from exercise,” he said.

Older people should not feel like they have to work out as intensely as they did when they were younger, said Gaesser.

In fact, he said, it’s physically impossible since cardiovascular capacity inevitably declines as you age.

In other words, it’s perfectly normal that it takes less exercise to reach your maximum capacity at age 60 than it did when you were 20.

“The relative intensity you have to exercise at is still the same,” Gaesser said. “It’s about what you can do at any point in time, not what you’ve done in the past.”