Twenty-five adolescents (aged 16 +/- 1 years) whose blood pressure (BP) was persistently above the 95th percentile for their age and sex were studied before and after 6 +/- 1 months of exercise training and again 9 +/- 1 months after the cessation of training. Maximal oxygen consumption (VO2) increased significantly with training. There was no change in body weight or sum of skinfolds. Both systolic and diastolic BP decreased significantly with training; however, complete BP normalization was not achieved. When the subjects were retested 9 +/- 1 months after cessation of training, systolic BP and VO2 max had returned to pretraining levels; however, diastolic BP was still below pretraining levels in the subjects who had diastolic hypertension initially. Except in subjects who initially had an elevated cardiac output, no consistent hemodynamic changes were found with training or cessation of training to account for the reductions in BP. The subjects whose resting cardiac outputs were high initially had significantly lower cardiac outputs after training as a result of decreases in both heart rate and stroke volume; however, vascular resistance remained unchanged. Sedentary control subjects with similar BP had no significant change in any of the variables measured over a similar period. These data indicate that moderate endurance exercise training can lower BP in otherwise healthy hypertensive adolescents as an initial therapeutic intervention.