Daily Activity Cuts Blood Pressure Risk

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Moving just a little bit more than usual could really help your blood pressure.

Middle-aged men are most likely to avoid high blood pressure if their days are active, a new Japanese study shows.

Nearly one in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure — a heart disease and stroke risk factor — but about a third of them don’t know it, says the American Heart Association.

The Japanese researchers aren’t talking about running marathons. In fact, they didn’t even consider exercise. Instead, they focused on simple activities like washing dishes or walking up and down stairs.

It was a practical decision. Few middle-aged people have physically active jobs or spend their free time in physical training, say Noriyuki Nakanishi, MD, DrPH, and Kenji Suzuki, ScD.

Nakanishi is on staff at Osaka University’s medical school. Suzuki works at Japan’s Labor and Welfare Association. Their report appears in the Jan. 24 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The researchers studied about 2,500 Japanese men, following them for seven years. At the beginning of the study, the men were 35 to 39 years old. None had high blood pressure or heart disease at the start of the study. All worked in white-collar jobs for one of Japan’s biggest building contractors.

Every year, the men’s blood pressure was checked. They were asked to fast for eight hours and avoid heavy physical activity for more than two hours before the tests.

Tracking Their Activity

The men had to think a little more for the second part of the study. They received an activity list and estimated how much time they spent on each item in a typical weekday.

The list spared no details, covering every second of the day in 15-minute periods. Activities included sleeping, resting, talking, eating, standing, driving, clerical work, bathing, and dressing. Walking was classified by speed (slow, normal, or brisk). Climbing and descending stairs had separate categories. Gardening and commuting by bicycle also made the list.

The point was to find out exactly what the men did all day long and whether those habits affected blood pressure over time.

More Motion, Better Blood Pressure

High blood pressure was diagnosed in 1,079 men during the seven-year study. Their daily activity habits made a difference.

The men who were most likely to develop high blood pressure were physically inactive. They also were those who had higher blood pressure readings at the beginning of the study.

The risk of developing high blood pressure dropped as daily-life activity increased, regardless of whether the men started the study with low, normal or high-normal ranges of blood pressure.

The results held even after taking into account other risk factors that affect one's chances of getting high blood pressure such as smoking, age, family history of high blood pressure, alcohol, body mass index, and regular physical exercise.

“Greater physical activity substantially reduces the risk of developing [high blood pressure],” say the researchers.

Younger men reaped more blood pressure benefits from daily activity. So did leaner men and those who rarely exercised, but those differences weren’t significant.

Still, it couldn’t hurt to move more. Countless studies have shown that being active helps blood pressure, safeguarding the heart in the long run.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Nakanishi, N. Archives of Internal Medicine, Jan. 24, 2005; vol 165: pp 214-220. American Heart Association.