By Alvin Tran
One out of every three American adults has high blood pressure. And, whether you're a man or a woman, your blood pressure naturally increases with age, raising your risk of health problems from stroke to heart disease and diabetes.
But there is a silver lining – at least for men with higher fitness levels, a new study finds.
The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that men who maintained higher levels of fitness tended to develop high blood pressure significantly later than less-fit men.
“We think improving fitness can slow the natural increased trend of systolic blood pressure with aging,” says Dr. Xuemei Sui, an assistant professor at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina and one of the study’s coauthors.
Sui and her colleagues’ data suggest the systolic blood pressure (the top number) of men with higher fitness levels reaches prehypertension – the level between normal and high blood pressure – at a much later age, on average: at 54, compared to an average of 46 in less fit men.
The research team analyzed medical exam records of nearly 14,000 men, ranging in age from 20 to 90, who were followed over a 36-year period. The research team divided the men into three equal groups of fitness: low (the bottom one-third), moderate, and high (the upper one-third).
Aside from the delay in the development of high blood pressure, the study also found that men in the higher fitness category had other more favorable health outcomes compared to those in the lower groups, including lower body mass index scores, percent of body fat, and cholesterol. These findings, Sui says, aren’t surprising. What was surprising, she says, was the significant delay in hypertension.
So, what should the men out there do?
“Physical activity is the primary determinant of fitness level,” Sui says.