Self-reported moderate to vigorous exercise was associated with lower blood pressure and blood glucose levels in a Kaiser Permanente study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Data collected from the system's Exercise as a Vital Sign (EVS) program, in which medical office staff asks patients about their exercise habits at every healthcare visit, revealed associations between moderate to vigorous exercise and improved measures of cardiometabolic health for both men and women.

"Few previous studies have examined associations between self-reported physical activity and cardiometabolic risk factors within a health care setting," system executives said of the study, which examined the electronic health records of 622,897 Kaiser Permanente Southern California adult members who were generally healthy and had at least three outpatient visits during the two-year study period.

As part of the EVS program, patients were asked how many days per week they engage in moderate to strenuous exercise (like a brisk walk) and how many minutes they engage in exercise at this level. The study authors categorized patients as “regularly active” if they reported 150 minutes of exercise per week or more, “irregularly active” if they reported any exercise but less than 150 minutes per week, and “inactive” if they reported no exercise. Among those excluded in the study were people with major health issues and individuals taking medications to lower blood pressure or control glucose.

The study found that women who were consistently and even irregularly active had lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure compared with those who were inactive. Men had lower diastolic blood pressure but there was no association with their systolic blood pressure.

The findings also showed that consistently and irregularly active male and female patients had fasting glucose levels lower than the consistently inactive patients. Consistently active and irregularly active women had a greater magnitude of difference for cardiometabolic variables compared with similarly active men.

“Although this study was cross-sectional and we cannot presume causality between the level of physical activity and health status based on these data, combining our findings with results from intervention studies suggest that exercise can play an integral part in moderating or lowering blood sugar and blood pressure, and ultimately a patient’s cardiometabolic health,” said Kaiser Permanente researcher Deborah Rohm Young.

The study is available here.

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