Objective: To determine whether low leisure-time physical activity, occupational physical activity and commuting activity independently increase the risk of hypertension when adjusted for most risk factors for hypertension and for different forms of physical activity.
Design: Population-based prospective cohort study.
Setting: Eastern and south-western Finland.
Participants: Men (n = 5935) and women (n = 6227) aged 25-64 years.
Main outcome measure: Initiation of free-of-charge medication for hypertension during a mean follow-up time of 11.3 years.
Results: Men with high leisure-time physical activity had a reduced risk of hypertension when adjustment had been made for age, area and year of survey, education, smoking, alcohol intake, baseline systolic blood pressure (SBP), body mass index (BMI), commuting activity and occupational physical activity [hazard ratio (HR) 0.79; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.63 to 0.99]. Women with high leisure-time physical activity had a reduced risk of hypertension when adjusted for age, area and time of survey (HR 0.65; 95% CI 0.46 to 0.91). This association was no longer significant when further adjustments were made for other covariates (HR 0.73; 95% CI 0.52 to 1.03). High occupational physical activity reduced the risk of hypertension only among men and women combined when adjustment was made for age, area and time of survey, education, smoking and alcohol intake, in addition to baseline SBP, BMI, commuting activity and leisure-time physical activity (HR 0.83; 95% CI 0.72 to 0.96). Commuting activity was not associated with risk of hypertension in multivariate models.
Conclusion: High levels of leisure-time physical activity are associated with a reduced risk of hypertension, independently of most common risk factors for hypertension, occupational physical activity and commuting activity. Promoting leisure-time physical activity is essential to prevent hypertension.