Updated 04 July 2014

Leisure-time exercise best for blood pressure

Exercising during your leisure time could help prevent high blood pressure, but being physically active at work doesn't seem to provide the same benefit.


Exercising during your leisure time could help prevent high blood pressure, but being physically active at work doesn't seem to provide the same benefit, according to a new review.

Researchers analysed the findings of 13 studies that examined the effects of physical activity on blood pressure. The studies included a total of nearly 137 000 people in the United States, Europe and East Asia who initially had healthy blood pressure. During follow-up periods ranging from two to 45 years, more than 15 600 of the participants developed high blood pressure.

Compared to people who exercised less than one hour a week during their leisure time, the risk of developing high blood pressure was 11% lower among those who exercised one to three hours per week, and 19% lower among those who did more than four hours of recreational exercise a week, according to the study published in the journal Hypertension.

Leisure-time exercise

The results suggest that the more leisure-time exercise you do, the lower your risk of developing high blood pressure.

However, the researchers did not find a solid link between physical activity at work and high blood pressure risk. Physical activity on the job, such as farm or industrial work, can involve heavy lifting, prolonged standing and repetitive tasks.

Exercise guidelines don't distinguish between physical activity at work or during leisure time, but "given the new findings, perhaps they should," study co-author Dr Bo Xi, a lecturer at the Shandong University School of Public Health in Jinan, China, said in a journal news release.

Recreational exercise may help reduce the risk of high blood pressure by preventing weight gain, improving poor insulin sensitivity or reducing the blood vessels' resistance to blood flow, the researchers suggested.

But they noted that their findings don't show that leisure-time exercise actually prevents high blood pressure. People who exercise for fun may just have healthier lifestyles, Xi explained.

About 78 million US adults have high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart and kidney disease.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about preventing high blood pressure.

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Dr Jacomien de Villiers qualified as a specialist physician at the University of Pretoria in 1995. She worked at various clinics at the Department of Internal Medicine, Steve Biko Hospital, these include General Internal Medicine, Hypertension, Diabetes and Cardiology. She has run a private practice since 2001, as well as a consultant post at the Endocrine Clinic of Steve Biko Hospital.

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