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Staying in shape can do more than just make you look good - it can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure.

Fitness can help override family history of high blood pressure

by Katie Dzwierzynski
May 17, 2012

Regular exercise and physical fitness can help counteract even a family history of high blood pressure and reduce the risk for developing hypertension, according to a new study.

The study, “Cardiorespiratory Fitness Reduces the Risk of Incident Hypertension Associated With a Parental History of Hypertension”, involved about 6,000 people and was conducted at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas.

Robin Shook, a doctoral candidate in exercise science at the University of South Carolina, led the study. The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health and a grant from The Coca-Cola Company, was published recently in the journal "Hypertension."

“These results weren’t surprising,” Shook said. “We already knew that fitness and physical activity have many positive health benefits. What was surprising was how big an impact exercise can have on the risk for hypertension.”

Participants took a physical exam, including an exercise test, and then returned to the clinic after several years for a follow-up exam. The average time between the first and second exam was 4.7 years, Shook said.

One-third of those who took part in the study had a parent with high blood pressure. The results showed that people who have a family history of high blood pressure are 20 percent more likely to have hypertension. But, those who are physically fit are 34 percent less likely to develop the condition than people who are out of shape and have a family history.

The study’s findings put an emphasis on the relation between physical activity and the heart, said Dr. Rami Doukky, an associate professor of medicine and radiology at Rush Medical College and director of Rush’s Nuclear Cardiology and Stress Testing Laboratories.

“These results make sense, they seem logical,” Doukky said. “They make it known that there is a form of discernible intervention available to people.”

The American College of Sports Medicine has established guidelines for how much exercise people should get each week, said Mike Geesey, a certified personal trainer at The Edge Sport Enhancement Training, Inc. in Evanston.

According to those guidelines, people should get 30-45 minutes per day, three times a week, of moderate-intensity exercise, Geesey said. Participants in this study who exercised that much or more had the lowest risk for developing hypertension.

Shook said there are two main points to take away from this research.

“You don’t need to be a marathon runner to see benefits,” Shook said. “And you can’t change your parents, but you can change your fitness level and reduce the risk.”

Point two: the majority of the study’s participants were white males, however, so the findings may not apply across all groups of people, the study notes.