Walking for up to two and a half hours a week can slash risks of hypertension

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UPDATED:

20:00 GMT, 14 May 2012

Brisk walking reduces the risk of high blood pressure in those with a family history of the disease

Brisk walking reduces the risk of high blood pressure in those with a family history of the disease

Walking briskly for two and a half hours a week can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure, claim scientists.

A new study has revealed how even moderate exercise can reduce the risk of high blood pressure – known as hypertension – in people with a family history of the disease by 26 per cent.

Previous studies have shown parental history accounts for about 35 per cent to 65 per cent of the variability in blood pressure among offspring, with varying levels of risk on which parent developed it and the age of onset.

Researchers followed a group of 6,278 adults aged 20 to 80 for an average 4.7 years, with 33 per cent reporting a parent had hypertension.

When the study began, all participants were healthy, reported no diagnosis of hypertension and achieved an exercise test score of at least 85 per cent of their age-predicted heart rate.

Researchers also determined their cardiorespiratory fitness using a treadmill exercise test. During the study, 1,545 participants reported they had developed hypertension.

Results showed in those with and without a family history of high blood pressure, high levels of fitness were associated with a 42 per cent lower risk of developing hypertension, and moderate levels of fitness with a 26 per cent lower risk.

People with both a low level of fitness and a parent with hypertension had a 70 per cent higher risk of developing the disease, compared with highly fit people with no parental history.

Those with a high level of fitness and a parent with hypertension experienced only a 16 per cent higher risk of developing hypertension, compared to those who were fit and had no parental history.

The findings, published in Hypertension, support the American Heart Association’s recommendations of moderately intense physical activity, such as brisk walking, for 30 minutes or longer at least five days a week.

Robin Shook, a doctoral graduate at the University of South Carolina in the United States, said: 'Understanding the roles that family history and fitness play in chronic diseases is critically important.

'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.

'The correlation between fitness levels, parental history and risk are impossible to ignore.

'This awareness can serve the clinician and the patient, as they work together to find effective and reasonable ways to avoid the diseases that have affected their family members – in some cases, for generations.'