If young adults want to prevent hypertension later in life, they may need to do more moderate activity every week, according to a study in American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Current exercise guidelines suggest adults have a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise each week, yet the study revealed that increasing the amount to 5 hours can protect against hypertension in midlife, especially when exercise is sustained consistently beyond age 30.

Researchers followed about 5,000 adults aged 18 to 30 for 30 years. Half of the participants were Black (51.6%) and the remainder were white, and 45.5% of participants were men. Researchers tracked exercise habits, medical history, smoking status and alcohol use. They also monitored blood pressure, weight, cholesterol and triglycerides.

Moderate Activity and Demographics

Assessing the participants by race and gender, researchers found that Black men were the most active in early adulthood. However, by age 60, their exercise amounts dropped to about 300 units—equivalent to 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise per week.

Comparatively, white men had about 430 units of exercise later in life, with activity declining most in their 20s and 30s. White women had roughly 320 units in late adulthood and Black women dropped the most to 200 units.

Similarly, rates of hypertension were highest among Black participants: approximately 80–90% of Black men and women had hypertension by age 60, compared to just under 70% for white men and 50% for white women.

While the study revealed racial disparities in current health outcomes, their research on the effects of moderate activity offers some strategies for improved health for all. When assessing the 17.9% of participants who completed at least 5 hours of moderate activity per week in early adulthood—across all groups—researchers found the development of hypertension was 18% lower.

Maintaining physical activity at higher levels than current guidelines recommend appears to be a helpful strategy in avoiding negative health outcomes, like hypertension, later.

Notably, study authors acknowledge that socioeconomic factors, neighborhood environments, and work or family responsibilities may prevent continued physical activity and health among Black participants—significant factors that can interfere with meeting exercise guidelines.

The study suggests focus both on equalizing access to exercise and healthcare across racial groups, and increasing the amount of physical activity across all people in early adulthood.

See also: Evening Cardio Training and Hypertension