Sit on the floor and reach for your toes. If you can get your fingers past them and you're 40 or older, that could be a sign that your arteries are flexible, researchers say.

In an unusual finding, new research suggests that flexibility, as defined by how far you can reach while sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you, may be linked to the stiffness of your arteries. It's known that arterial stiffness can often precede life-threatening cardiovascular disease.

"Our findings have potentially important clinical implications because trunk flexibility can be easily evaluated," said study coauthor Kenta Yamamoto, PhD, of the University of North Texas and the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan. This simple test might help to prevent age-related arterial stiffening."

The Study

In the study, 526 nonsmoking adults, ages 20 to 83, who were not obese, participated in a test that measured how far they could reach while sitting with legs extended.

The researchers also tested the participants' blood pressure and took other measurements regarding their cardiovascular systems and their endurance.

The study authors found that more flexibility was linked with less arterial stiffness, but only in middle-aged and older participants.

The findings were published in the American Journal of Physiology—Heart and Circulatory Physiology.

Possible Explanation

Researchers don't know why flexibility might be linked to arteries. One theory is that people who are more flexible do stretching exercises that help slow down stiffening of the arteries.

However, it's not clear if there's a direct cause-and-effect relationship between greater flexibility and less arterial stiffness, the study authors added.


"Together with our results, these findings suggest a possibility that improving flexibility induced by the stretching exercise may be capable of modifying age-related arterial stiffening in middle-aged and older adults," Dr. Yamamoto said. "We believe that flexibility exercise, such as stretching, yoga and Pilates, should be integrated as a new recommendation into the known cardiovascular benefits of regular exercise."

Meditation Lowers Heart Disease Risk by 47%

Patients with coronary heart disease practiced transcendental meditation for 20 minutes twice a day for five years, on average...or got instruction in heart-protecting diet and exercise habits. Meditators were 47% less likely than non-meditators to have a heart attack or stroke, or to die.


Surprising Sign of Heart Disease in Men

Top way for men to prevent and reverse sexual dysfunction is the same way to reduce heart disease risk. Erectile dysfunction (ED) results from diminished blood flow and can be an early warning sign for heart disease. Men who have ED are 80% more likely to develop heart disease than other men.

Self-defense: Exercise regularly, eat a healthful diet and maintain a healthy weight. Keep blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar under control.

Good News! Sex Lowers Risk for Heart Disease

Men who have sex once a month or less are M approximately 50% more likely to suffer cardiovascular events, such as heart attack, stroke or heart failure, than men who have sex at least twice a week. Further research is needed. The frequency of sex may simply indicate a man's overall health. In the meantime, men should discuss with their doctors any sexual problems.

Cheer Up—It Helps Your Heart

In a study of 1,017 heart disease patients, those who were depressed were 31% more likely to have a heart attack, heart failure insufficient pumping action of the heart), a stroke or to die over a five-year period.

If you have heart disease: The American Heart Association recommends that you get routinely screened for depression.

Chickpeas Curb Cholesterol

A recent study followed 45 adults with high A total cholesterol levels (250 milligrams per deciliter, on average) who ate at least 25 ounces (about three cups) of canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans) weekly for 12 weeks.

Result: The participants' total cholesterol levels dropped by 7.7 points, on average.

Theory: Chickpeas are high in fiber and polyunsaturated fats, which help reduce total cholesterol when they replace saturated fats.

Self-defense: Enjoy chickpeas in salads, hummus and other dishes.

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