HealthDay News — Recreational physical activity, at moderate and high levels, is associated with a significantly decreased risk for developing hypertension long term, results of a meta-analysis indicate.

Over nearly a decade of follow-up, those with moderate (relative risk 0.89, 95% CI 0.85-0.94) and high (RR 0.81, 95% CI 0.76-0.85) activity levels had significantly lower risk for hypertension than those with low levels, Wei Ma, MD, PhD, of Shandong University in Jinan, China, and colleagues reported in Hypertension.

The response was dose related, with those reporting a high level of activity yielding a significantly greater benefit (P=0.02) than those reporting moderate activity. 

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The analysis involved data from 13 prospective cohort studies and included 136,846 individuals who were free of hypertension at baseline and 15,607 of whom developed hypertension during follow-up.

Although the definition of hypertension varied between studies, most defined the condition as a systolic BP of at least 140 mm Hg, a diastolic BP of at least 90 mm Hg or use of antihypertensives. Four studies relied on self-reported hypertension status and data from medication reimbursement registries, and another two defined hypertension as a systolic pressure of at least 160 mm Hg, a diastolic pressure of at least 95 mm Hg, or use of antihypertensives.

Both moderate and high levels of physical activity were associated with a lower risk of developing hypertension, but only for recreational activity, not occupational, the researchers found.

“Generally, high occupational physical activity consists of heavy lifting, prolonged standing, and highly repetitive work, while recreational physical activity is often characterized by dynamic contractions of large muscle groups increasing whole-body metabolism and cardiac output with ability to rest when fatigued,” the researchers wrote. 

“[I]nternational recommendations for health-promoting physical activity should distinguish between occupational physical activity and recreational physical activity,” they added.

The mechanism by which exercise reduces hypertension risk is unknown, but may include benefits such as healthy body weight, total peripheral resistance and insulin sensitivity. In general, people who are physically active may also live a healthier lifestyle.


  1. Ma W et al. Hypertension. 2013; doi: 10.1161/​HYPERTENSIONAHA.113.01965.