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Flexibility and Heart Attack

A recent study in the American Journal of Physiology found that, for people 40 years old or older, the ability to touch their toes could be used to determine the flexibility of their arteries. Arterial stiffness often precedes cardiovascular disease. Thus the simple test of whether or not a person can touch their toes could be a quick measure of the risk of heart attack or stroke.

One of the authors of the study, Kenta Yamamoto, stated, “Our findings have potentially important clinical implications because trunk flexibility can be easily evaluated. This simple test might help to prevent age related arterial stiffening.”

No one has discovered exactly why flexibility of arteries would be related to the flexibility of the body for middle aged people. One possibility is that stretching exercises may set into motion physical reactions that slow down age-related stiffening of the arteries.


Blood vessels should be elastic so they can help regulate blood pressure. As people age their blood vessels become stiff which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and possible death. Other studies have established that physical fitness and flexibility can delay age related arterial stiffness, even though no one understands exactly why.

People who keep themselves in shape often have a more flexible body, and the authors hypothesized that a flexible body could be a quick indication of arterial flexibility.

The study consisted of 526 healthy, non-smoking adults, 20 to 83 years old. The researchers wanted to see if their ability to touch their toes, as measured with the sit and reach test, is associated with arterial stiffness. Participants sat on the floor, back against the wall with their legs straight out in front. By bending at the waist they reached forward toward their toes. The researchers classified them as either poor or high in flexibility. Blood pressure, pulse and the time it takes for the pulse to travel from wrist to ankle was also measured.

Then the participants were measured for aortic pressure and tested for cardio-respiratory fitness, muscular strength and endurance to provide an accurate level of arterial health or stiffness.


The study found that there is a correlation between trunk flexibility and arterial health among middle age and older participants, but not among the younger group. The study showed that peak blood pressure was higher in the poor flexibility group.

Although further research is needed to understand whether there is a cause and effect relationship between flexibility and arterial stiffness, researchers believe that flexibility exercise, such as offered by the Rikian Exerciser, should be integrated into a healthy exercise regime.

Improving flexibility induced by bio-mechanical muscle stimulation (BMS) may be capable of modifying age-related arterial stiffening in middle-aged and older adults.

Story Source: The above post is reprinted from materials provided by American Physiological Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. Journal Reference: 1. Yamamoto et al. Poor trunk flexibility is associated with arterial stiffening. AJP Heart and Circulatory Physiology, 2009; 297 (4): H1314 DOI: 10.1152/ajpheart.00061.2009

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