Modestly Increased Physical Activity Reduces the Age-Related Increase in Blood Pressure

The difference between lesser and greater degrees of modest exercise is sizable when it comes to effects on measures of cardiovascular health, such as blood pressure. The raised blood pressure characteristic of aging and a lack of physical fitness is damaging to delicate tissues, speeds the development of atherosclerosis, and is associated with a raised risk of mortality. A sizable proportion of the mortality reduction that attends greater physical activity in later life may be mediated via effects such as lowered blood pressure.

A study sought to determine if older adults with hypertension could receive these benefits by moderately increasing their daily walking, which is one of the easiest and most popular forms of physical activity for this population. The study focused on a group of sedentary older adults between ages 68 and 78 who walked an average of about 4,000 steps per day before the study. After consulting existing studies, researchers determined that 3,000 steps would be a reasonable goal. This would also put most participants at 7,000 daily steps, in line with the American College of Sports Medicine's recommendation.

The team conducted the study during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant they had to do everything remotely. The researchers sent participants a kit with pedometers, blood pressure monitors, and step diaries for participants to log how much they were walking each day. On average, participants' systolic and diastolic blood pressure decreased by an average of seven and four points, respectively, after the intervention. Other studies suggest decreases of these magnitudes correspond to a relative risk reduction of all-cause mortality by 11%, and 16% for cardiovascular mortality, an 18% reduction in the risk of heart disease, and a 36% risk reduction of stroke.

The findings suggest that the 7,000-step regimen the participants in the study achieved is on-par with reductions seen with anti-hypertensive medications. Eight of the 21 participants were already on anti-hypertensive medications. Those participants still saw improvements in systolic blood pressure from increasing their daily activity.