Introduction: Large-artery stiffness is an independent predictor of hypertension which is a leading cause of excess cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity (cf-PWV) is considered the ‘gold-standard’ measure of arterial stiffness because it measures along the aorto-iliac pathway, which makes the largest contribution to the arterial buffering function. While there is well-documented evidence on the health benefits of aerobic and resistance exercise, the information for the effect of stretching on arterial stiffness is limited. Previous studies have shown that arterial stiffness is associated with trunk flexibility. Stretching exercise targeted to improve flexibility may exert a beneficial effect on reducing arterial stiffness.
Purpose: This study aimed (1) to determine the association between trunk flexibility and arterial stiffness and (2) to examine whether one bout of stretching exercise will increase trunk flexibility and decrease arterial stiffness.
Methods: Thirty healthy women (mean age = 44.37 years) were instructed to follow a 20-minute DVD demonstration of whole-body stretching. Before and after stretching, cf-PWV and trunk flexibility were measured by using the SphygmoCor system and by sit-and-reach test, respectively, as well as systolic and diastolic blood pressure (SBP and DBP) and heart rate (HR) by using a Welch Allyn Monitor. All data were measured after taking a 10-minute rest in a supine position.
Results: cf-PWV was not related to trunk flexibility, however, cf-PWV was significantly decreased after stretching compared with before stretching (mean difference [MD]=.63, , p=.01). Trunk flexibility was also significantly increased after stretching (MD=-3.08, p=.00). Furthermore, while SBP and DBP did not change significantly, HR was significantly reduced after stretching compared with before stretching (MD=3.12, p=.00).
Conclusions: Our results showed that one bout of stretching exercise had significant effects on reducing arterial stiffness and heart rate. Further testing of long-term effects of stretching exercise is warranted for development of preventative interventions to reduce arterial stiffness, an important subclinical biomarker of cardiovascular disease.