World Hypertension Day: Exercise Lowers Blood Pressure Risk, Despite Genes

(Huffington Post) — Just in time for World Hypertension Day comes this piece of good news: We might have more control over our blood pressure than previously thought.

We’re often taught that genetic susceptibility is rote. There’s no way around it: if one of your parents has a condition, there is a specific probability that it will be passed down to you. With conditions for which genetic associations are very strong, such as hypertension, it can seem like a hopeless pursuit to prevent it. Previous research has found that having just one parent with a history of hypertension makes you 20 percent more likely to suffer from the condition, even after risk factors have been accounted for.

But a new study demonstrates that staying physically fit and active can have a lasting impact and counter genetic predisposition. The study followed 6,278 predominantly white men and women of all ages over a nearly five-year period. About 33 percent of the participants had at least one parent with a history of hypertension. Researchers found that those who maintained a moderate to high fitness level, despite family history, were overall 34 percent less likely than those who lived a sedentary lifestyle to develop high blood pressure over the course of the study.

What’s more, the relationship wasn’t seen exclusively in “gym rat” types; moderate exercisers enjoyed a 26 percent reduction in hypertension risk. “The results of this study send a very practical message, which is that even a very realistic, moderate amount of exercise — which we define as brisk walking for 150 minutes per week — can provide a huge health benefit, particularly to people predisposed to hypertension because of their family history,” said lead author Robin P. Shook, a doctoral graduate student in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, in a statement.


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