Improve heart health by stretching
Do you want to do everything you can to improve heart health? In July, a physiology journal published a study proving that stretching is good for cardiovascular health. If you don’t get along with getting more flexible, then all that stretching is certainly not in vain. This article tells you more about the research.
The difference between passive and active
We start with a brief explanation of the different forms of stretching. There are two: passive and active. It is important to know the difference between the two as they have different goals and points of interest.
With active stretching, you use your own strength and muscles to stretch another muscle. You used the muscles that have the opposite function of the muscle you are going to stretch. We need these antagonists.
As one muscle contracts, the opposite muscles are prompted to relax. Despite the effort, active stretching is therefore relaxing. Also useful when you have cramps.
The exercise causes more blood to flow to the muscles, which gives them more energy and allows them to recover faster. Active stretching can be done at the beginning of a workout. Make sure you have a good warm-up.
The stretch depends on the strength you have. You cannot stretch a muscle that easily. That is an advantage. The disadvantage is that it is difficult that it takes power. If you lack enough strength to stretch properly, the stretch will be less effective.
And then there is also passive stretching. Here, too, the muscle fibers stretch, but the blood flows out of the muscle. After the stretch, the muscle feels longer, but not stronger. For that reason, you only passively stretch after your workout.
You do not use muscles to create the stretch. Or rather: no antagonists. In a sitting forward bend, where the stretch is on the back of the legs, you can use your arms. We often use gravity.
With a passive stretch you can stretch very deeply. Deeper and longer, because you do not have to contract muscles. Stretch routines for more flexibility often include many passive stretches.
Why is stretching healthy for the heart?
And now back to the heart. In July, the Journal of Physiology published a study concluding that passive stretching improves heart health. Stiffness of the muscles and veins are signs of a potentially unhealthy heart.
Passive stretching makes muscles and veins less stiff. But not only that. The blood supply improves, the blood vessel dilating function works better and the blood pressure decreases. And all of this reduces the risk of a stroke or heart attack.
The research was conducted by Italian researchers at the University of Milan. They made two groups of people. One group did stretches for the legs five times a week. Of course not the other group.
After 12 weeks, they examined the effects of stretching on blood flow, blood pressure, and the stiffness of the blood vessels in the thigh, knee and upper arm. The result was a compelling difference between the two groups. Suffice it to say it’s good for heart health.
The blood vessels in the thigh, knee and arm had more blood and were less stiff. A positive effect could also be measured in other parts of the body. The effect was greatest in the legs. The blood vessel-dilating function was better and the blood pressure decreased in some of the participants.
Six weeks later they took another measurement on the participants who had stretched. After they had stopped stretching for six weeks, the positive effects disappeared. So you will have to keep stretching and persevere for the positive effect on heart health.
Stretching is not a substitute for sports. It complements your training. Which you can do anytime, anywhere. Also at home in front of the TV!
Three exercises to get you started
If you want to work on heart health, start with these three exercises.
- Bend forward / forward fold: Stand up and then try to touch the floor with your fingertips or flat hands. Still not successful? Then bend as far as you can. Try to relax your arms, net, and shoulders.
- Supine hamstring stretch with elastic: Lie on your back and place an elastic under one foot. Then bring that leg towards the ceiling and pull on the elastic. Feel the stretch in your hamstring and calf.
- Quad stretch on your stomach with elastic: Lie on your stomach and place an elastic around your foot. Bring the heel of your foot towards your buttocks and gently pull on the elastic. Feel the stretch in your thigh.