A recent study published in The Journal of Physiology in July 2020 revealed strong evidence that stretching can benefit our vascular system and thus improve blood flow.

Our vascular system

Our vascular system, also called the circulatory system, plays an extremely important body function. It consists of all the vessels that carry blood and lymph throughout the body.

Veins and arteries play a very important role here, as they distribute blood around the entire body. The blood delivers oxygen and nutrients to tissues and takes away waste matter.

Lymph vessels contain lymphatic fluid, which is a clear fluid made up of water and blood cells. The purpose of the lymphatic system is to maintain and protect the fluid levels of your body.

12 weeks of passive stretching does help the vascular system

According to the article published by medical researchers in The Journal of Physiology, it can take just 12 weeks of passive stretching to help improve the vascular system.

Another group of Italian researchers from the University of Milan conducted studies which revealed people who did passive stretching had better blood flow. An added benefit that was seen is a decrease in artery stiffness.

The researchers wrote, “Blood pressure was decreased, central and peripheral arterial stiffness was reduced, and vascular function was increased after 12 weeks of passive stretching training.”

This means that passive stretching has a positive impact in improving one’s heart health.

What is passive stretching?

Passive stretching is when one stretches with the aid of an external force. For example, a person stays in one stretch position for a certain period of time. A partner, an exercise accessory, gravity or a prop increases the stretch by adding pressure on your body.

How was the research carried out?

The research comprised of two groups of 39 healthy men and women. Group A were told to do leg stretches from Monday to Friday for a total of 12 weeks. Group B did not do any stretching.

Participants in Group A did see an improvement in their vascular system. The researchers believe this could lessen the risk of diseases that involve blood flow, such as a heart attack or a stroke.

Dr Jonathan Myers, director of the Exercise Research Lab in California says, “In this Italian study, there was a significant improvement in flow-mediated dilation, which can be thought of as the ability of an artery to dilate in response to an increase in blood flow.”

Dr Myers continued by saying, “A novel finding from this study was the fairly remarkable changes in vascular function simply by passive stretching.”

The study suggests that medical practitioners treating patients with vascular disease should recommend stretching in addition to some regular aerobic exercise. Stretching did bring positive changes in arterial function.

Of course further studies are ongoing to see how much passive stretching can go in hand with aerobic exercise.

Stretching vs exercise

Cardiologist Dr Nicole Weinberg from Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California says, “Exercise is one of the most effective ways to ensure healthy arteries. A lot of the types of exercise that are most studied are cardiovascular focused such as running, walking, biking, and swimming. This study is exciting because it shows similar benefits with non-cardio training”.

Are there benefits from passive stretching?

For starters, passive stretching improves your range of motion (frontal, sideways and transverse), your mobility and your flexibility. Your performance will improve, and your risk of injury is lowered.

As it involves a stretching partner or the use of exercise props, it helps people who are not able to stretch by themselves.

Researchers are also studying whether passive stretching can prevent muscle weakness and stimulate muscle growth. Studies done on animals in 2013 did indicate a short period of daily passive stretching helped to build up muscle.

Conclusion: Studies done to date together with ongoing research all indicate passive stretching does improve a person’s vascular system. Readers can consult their doctors or trainers or find many examples of simple passive stretching online.

Of course we always suggest readers with current medical issues to seek proper medical advice, even before performing passive stretching, as certain stretches may be unsuitable for the individual.

By Aaron
14th January 2021 23:00

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