Stretching. For many women it’s an afterthought, something you might do after you’re done with other, more important exercise, if you remember or have time, which is usually never. Increasingly, however, scientists are finding that for health, well-being, and quality of life, flexibility should move off the backburner and to the forefront of our minds.
In a recent study, Japanese researchers asked more than 500 women and men ages 20 to 83 to perform a “sit and reach” test, where they sit with legs extended and tried to touch their toes. They then examined their arteries for arterial stiffness, often a precursor to high blood pressure and heart disease. Turns out that after age 40, there’s a strong correlation between rigid muscles and stiff arteries. Specifically, those who had poor flexibility also had significantly stiffer artieries than their more limber peers.
Other studies have linked poor flexibility to high blood sugar, which increases diabetes risk, as well as greater risk for metabolic syndrome — another risk factor for heart disease.
Though more research is needed to understand the relationship between stiff muscles and stiff arteries, some researchers speculate that it might be a very simple answer: stretching helps keep all parts of your body — arteries included — more flexible.
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