Can Stretching Reduce Your Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke?
Title: Four weeks of regular static stretching reduces arterial stiffness in middle‑aged men
Objective: To assess the effects of 4 weeks of regular static stretching on arterial stiffness in middle-aged men.
Arterial stiffness, technically termed arteriosclerosis, is a part of the aging process that can be normal or part of a disease process. As we get older, our arteries naturally stiffen, however to what degree this occurs strictly because of the aging process and what is caused by lifestyle risk factors is an area of interest to researchers. Known risk factors for stiffened arteries includes high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, diet and lack of exercise. The reason this is significant is because stiffened arteries are a significant risk factor for heart attacks and strokes, the #1 and #2 leading causes of death in the western world.
What happens is the elastic property of the arteries is lost as they begin to stiffen and harden. There is a degeneration of the quality of the connective tissues, specifically elastin and collagen proteins. Think of an old elastic band that doesn’t stretch anymore. When these arteries stiffen, they no longer handle the pulsatile flow of blood pressure which increases the chance of damage to the walls, plaque rupture and loss of normal blood flow to organs. It can be measured by pulse wave velocity or by measuring blood pressure on different extremities.
Interestingly, some studies have linked trunk flexibility to arterial stiffness. Other studies have also found individuals with more flexible trunk and hamstrings have less arterial stiffness. Stretching is known to improve trunk flexibility. What is not known is whether that translates to arterial stiffness. The authors sought to investigate that hypothesis.
16 healthy men, average age of 43, were assigned to either control or intervention groups (n = 8 each).
The control group did not alter their physical activity levels throughout the study period.
The intervention group participated in five supervised stretching sessions per week for 4 weeks.
Each session comprised 30 min of mild stretching that moved the major muscle groups through the full range of motion and stretches were held three times for 20 s at the end range.
Flexibility was assessed by sit-and-reach test.
Arterial stiffness was assessed by brachial-ankle pulse wave velocity (baPWV) and cardioankle vascular index (CAVI).
Four weeks of stretching increased
- sit-and-reach (Control, Pre: 31.4 ± 2.1, Post: 30.8 ± 2.7 vs. Intervention, Pre: 30.6 ± 5.3, Post: 43.9 ± 4.3 cm),
- reduced baPWV (Control, Pre: 1204 ± 25, Post: 1205 ± 38 vs. Intervention, Pre 1207 ± 28, Post: 1145 ± 19 cm/s) and
- CAVI (Control, Pre: 7.6 ± 0.3, Post: 7.5 ± 0.3 vs. Intervention, Pre: 7.7 ± 0.2, Post: 7.2 ± 0.2 units) in the intervention group.
However, the change in sit-and-reach did not significantly correlate with the changes in arterial stiffness
These findings suggest that short-term regular stretching induces a significant reduction in arterial stiffness in middle-aged men.
Interestingly, the change in trunk flexibility did not correlate with change in arterial stiffness.
More research is needed to determine the long term implications of these findings and whether stretching can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Nishiwaki, M., Yonemura, H., Kurobe, K., & Matsumoto, N. (2015). Four weeks of regular static stretching reduces arterial stiffness in middle-aged men.SpringerPlus, 4(1). doi:10.1186/s40064-015-1337-4