And it didn't take hours of working out at the gym every day to get that benefit.
"The results of this study send a very practical message, which is that even a very realistic, moderate amount of exercise -- which we define as brisk walking for 150 minutes per week -- can provide a huge health benefit, particularly to people predisposed to hypertension because of their family history," researcher Robin P. Shook, a doctoral graduate student in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, says in a news release.
Having a parent with high blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for developing the condition yourself. Previous research suggests that having a parent with high blood pressure may account for about 35% to 65% of the variability of blood pressure levels.
The Physical Fitness Factor
The new study, published in Hypertension, included more than 6,000 healthy adults. About a third of them had a parent with high blood pressure.
Their physical fitness levels were followed for nearly five years.
The results confirmed that people who had a parent with high blood pressure were more likely to develop high blood pressure -- about 20% more likely, after considering other risk factors, including age, smoking, high cholesterol, and being overweight.
But the researchers found some good news for people with and without a family history of the disease, and physical fitness was the key.
People with a high level of physical fitness were 42% less likely to have high blood pressure and those with a moderate level of fitness were 26% less likely, compared to people with a low level of physical fitness.
Among people with a parent with high blood pressure, those who were most physically fit had only a 16% higher risk of developing high blood pressure than those who were fit and had no family history of the disease.
The reverse was also true. People with a parent with high blood pressure and a low level of physical fitness were 70% more likely to develop hypertension compared to highly fit people with no family history of the disease.
"The correlation between fitness levels, parental history, and risk are impossible to ignore," Shook says.
Because most of the people in this study were relatively fit, well-educated, middle- to upper-class white men, the researchers note that the results of the study may not represent all groups of people in the U.S.