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Stretching Test May Reveal Arterial Stiffness

Flexibility exercises belong in cardiovascular workout, experts say

FRIDAY, Oct. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Sit on the floor and reach for your toes. If you can get your fingers past them and you're 40 or older, that could be a sign that your arteries are flexible, researchers say.

In an unusual finding, new research suggests that flexibility, as defined by how far you can reach while sitting down, may be linked to the stiffness of your arteries. It's known that arterial stiffness often precedes life-threatening cardiovascular disease.

"Our findings have potentially important clinical implications because trunk flexibility can be easily evaluated," study co-author Kenta Yamamoto, of the University of North Texas and the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan, said in a news release from the American Physiological Society. "This simple test might help to prevent age-related arterial stiffening."

Researchers don't know why flexibility might be linked to arteries. One theory is that people who are more flexible do stretching exercises that help slow down stiffening of the arteries.

The findings appear in the October issue of the American Journal of Physiology -- Heart and Circulatory Physiology.

In the study, 526 nonsmoking adults, aged 20 to 83 and not obese, participated in a sit-and-reach test. The researchers measured how far the participants could reach.

The researchers also tested the participants' blood pressure and took other measurements regarding their cardiovascular systems and endurance.

The study authors found that more flexibility was linked with less arterial stiffness, but only in middle-aged and older participants.

"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," Yamamoto said. "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."

However, it's not clear if there's a direct cause-and-effect relationship between greater flexibility and less arterial stiffness, the study authors added.

More information

Learn more about heart disease from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: American Physiological Society, news release, Oct. 6, 2009

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