New Study Says Passive Stretching Could Lower Risk of Cardiovascular Disease


A new study suggests that stretching loosens our arteries, along with our muscles, and that may help protect against heart disease. Photo: Nastasic/E+ via Getty Images

Aside from how nice it feels, there may be another reason to call it a good stretch. It turns out that stretching loosens our arteries, along with our muscles, and that may help protect against heart disease.

A study published Thursday in the Journal of Physiology shows that 12 weeks of passive stretching helped increase blood flow by making it easier for arteries to dilate and decreasing their stiffness. Both of these improvements could help people with impaired vascular health such as those with heart disease but also diabetes.

What is Passive Stretching?


Passive stretching is a type of static stretching. You stay in one position for a set time while you or a partner  — or a prop, like a towel, tension band or even the wall or floor — intensifies the stretch by applying more pressure.

In the case of this study, researchers from the Università degli Studi di Milano in Italy recruited 39 healthy participants who performed a series of passive leg stretches, five times a week for 12 weeks. The result was improved blood pressure as well as better artery dilation and function — and not just in the legs but also in participants’ upper arms.

However, the boon to vascular health lasted for only six weeks afterward — proving the old adage, use it or lose it.

Previous research has shown similar positive outcomes from acute passive stretching, a well-established practice in rehabilitation and sport. Study authors say that if further research were done with patients who have vascular diseases, stretching may prove to be an effective drug-free treatment for improving vascular health and reducing disease risk.

An associate professor at the Department of Biomedical Sciences for Health of the Università degli Studi di Milano and the study’s co-author, Emiliano Ce, also believes it can be beneficial now, with COVID-19 keeping us more isolated and less active.

“This new application of stretching is especially relevant in the current pandemic period of increased confinement to our homes, where the possibility of performing beneficial training to improve and prevent heart disease, stroke and other conditions is limited.”