Â by Kenta Yamamoto, PhD
As we age, arteries can lose flexibility, and thatâs not good because arterial stiffness is often a precursor to cardiovascular disease. So Iâm happy to be able to tell you about a simple, do-it-yourself way to gauge whether your arteries might be dangerously stiff.
Â The simple test
Â Muscle flexibility is a component of cardio-respiratory fitness and physical fitness and is also an aspect of arterial flexibility. In a study at the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Tokyo, 526 healthy participants were divided into three age groups and instructed to sit on the floor with their backs against the wall. While researchers held their legs straight in front of them, they were asked to use their arms to push forward a device that measured their maximum reach. Researchers then classified each as having “poor” or “high” flexibility. They also simultaneously measured blood pressure and pulse wave velocity, which gives a clinical measure of arterial stiffness.
Â The results: In middle-aged and older people, poor body flexibility was associated with arterial stiffness. The findings were reported in American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology.
Â “This study takes the first step in determining the relationship between flexibility and cardiovascular diseases,” says Kenta Yamamoto, PhD, a research fellow in the department of integrative physiology at University of North Texas Health Science Center and lead author of the study.
Â There could be several reasons for the association. The researchers speculate that habitually working to increase flexibility by stretching your muscles may also relax the arteries and help decrease arterial stiffness. Another possibility involves collagen and elastin, the composition of which changes with age, reducing the flexibility of both muscles and arteries. A third possibility relates to blood pressure, since we already know elevated blood pressure stiffens arteries. In this study, researchers found that those with the highest blood pressure also had the poorest flexibility.
Â How to Test Yourself
Â Itâs easy to test yourself at home, says Dr. Yamamoto: “If you cannot touch your toes when sitting with your legs held straight, your flexibility is poor.” He suggests integrating flexibility exercises — such as yoga, Pilates or basic stretching –into your routine, adding that doing this may help prevent arterial stiffness. He says to follow the recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association, which advise those who donât work out regularly to stretch for 10 to 15 minutes every day… and says that those who do exercise regularly should incorporate several minutes of stretching before and after each workout. Thatâs a very easy prescription for something that could save your life.
Kenta Yamamoto, PhD, research fellow in department of the integrative physiology at University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth, www.hsc.unt.edu.