From a sitting position, how far can you reach past your toes? The answer could indicate not only how flexible you are — but how flexible your arteries are.
New research suggests that stretching exercises increase flexibility and could also prevent or reverse stiffening of arteries.
In this study, published in the American Journal of Physiology, researchers found how well people aged 40 and older performed on a sit and reach test past their toes and that the test was an accurate way to assess the flexibility of their arteries.
So, because arterial stiffness often precedes cardiovascular disease, this simple test could become a quick measure of a person’s risk for early death from heart attack or stroke.
Healthy blood vessels are elastic and that flexibility helps to moderate blood pressure. However, as we age arterial stiffness often increases, upping the risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Those who are fit are usually more flexible than those who are out of shape and so the researchers hypothesised that a flexible body could be a quick way to check for arterial flexibility.
They tested this hypothesis with 526 healthy, non-smoking adults between the ages of 20 and 83 and divided them into 3 age groups. They all performed a sit-and-reach test by sitting on the floor with backs against the wall. The volunteers then bent at the waist and slowly stretched reaching their arms forward and their flexibility was then rated by the researchers.
They discovered that trunk flexibility was the best predictor of artery stiffness among those who were middle aged and older but not in the younger group.
So why is arterial flexibility related to flexibility of the body? The scientists say this remains unclear but one possibility is that stretching exercises like yoga and pilates may put into motion physiological reactions that slow down age-related stiffening of the arteries.
“Together with our results, these findings suggest a possibility that improving flexibility induced by the stretching exercise may be capable of modifying age-related arterial stiffening in middle-aged and older adults,” Dr. Yamamoto said in the press statement. “We believe that flexibility exercise, such as stretching, yoga and Pilates, should be integrated as a new recommendation into the known cardiovascular benefits of regular exercise.”