Aims: Due to superior exercise performance, athletes show higher blood pressure (BP) at peak exercise compared to untrained individuals. Thus, higher reference values for peak exercise systolic and diastolic BP were reported specifically for athletes. However, the prognostic significance of high blood pressure response (HBPR) to exercise has not yet been clarified in this population.
Methods and results: One hundred and forty-one normotensive athletes with HBPR to exercise were compared to 141 normotensive athletes with normal blood pressure response (NBPR) to exercise, matched for gender, age, body size, and type of sport. All athletes were followed up for 6.5 ± 2.8 years. Over follow-up, no cardiac events occurred; 24 athletes were diagnosed essential hypertension (8.5%). Specifically, 19 (13.5%) belonged to the HBPR compared with 5 (3.5%) in the NBPR group (P = 0.003). Kaplan-Meier analysis confirmed that the incidence of hypertension during follow-up was higher in the HBPR group (log-rank χ2P-value = 0.009). Multivariable analysis by Cox proportional hazard survival model showed that resting BP and HBPR at baseline evaluation were the strongest predictors of incident hypertension (χ2 for the model 30.099; P < 0.001). Specifically, HBPR was associated with a hazard ratio of 3.6 (95% confidence interval 1.3-9.9) of developing hypertension. Over follow-up exercise capacity, as well as morphologic and functional cardiac parameters in athletes from both groups did not change significantly.
Conclusion: The present study showed that an exaggerated BP response to exercise increased the risk for incident hypertension in highly trained and normotensive athletes over a middle-term period.