Lead author Robin P. Shook, a doctoral candidate in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, said the study tracked a group of 6,278 predominantly Caucasian adults ages 20-80 for an average 4.7 years. Thirty-three percent of participants reported a parent had hypertension.
When the study began, all participants were healthy, did not have hypertension and achieved an exercise test score of at least 85 percent of their age-predicted maximal heart rate. During the study, 1,545 participants developed hypertension.
The study, published in the journal Hypertension, found high levels of fitness were associated with a 42 percent lower risk of developing hypertension, and moderate levels of fitness with a 26 percent lower risk.
People with both a low level of fitness and a parent with hypertension had a 70 percent higher risk for developing hypertension, compared with highly fit people with no parental history, Shook said.
"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," Shook said in a statement.