Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study Finds Low Fitness in Youth Linked to Hypertension

Young adults who don't get enough physical and aerobic exercise increase their risk of having high blood pressure later in life, a new study shows.

Researchers who analyzed 20 years worth of data conclude that a "substantial" proportion of high blood pressure cases are associated with a lack of physical activity and not enough aerobic fitness.

There is a difference in measuring aerobic fitness and physical activity, according to scientists at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.

Physical activity is a behavior, while aerobic fitness is a physiological measure that reflects a combination of physical activity, genetic potential, and functional health of various organs.

Low levels of physical activity and fitness significantly increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, a 20-year study of young adults shows.

The study, released online June 1 in advance of publication in the July print issue of the journal Hypertension, found that about one-third of all high blood pressure cases could be prevented with increased physical fitness.

The results of this study aren't too surprising, but what I think is impressive is the amount of hypertension that can be prevented. For example, in white women, the difference between low levels of fitness and high levels of fitness is a fivefold higher risk in the low level group. The magnitude of the difference was surprising.

— Dr. Goutham Rao, clinical director of the Weight Management and Wellness Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh

A new analysis of the longitudinal Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, published online June 1, 2010 in Hypertension, shows that both physical fitness and physical activity are inversely associated with the development of hypertension over a period of 20 years . But importantly, the researchers illustrate that activity was significantly associated with nonhypertensive blood-pressure readings only when fitness levels were the highest.

The study is one of the few to jointly measure fitness and activity, and distinguishing between the two is important, they explain, because physical activity is a behavior, whereas aerobic fitness is a physiologic measure.