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Touching toes could measure heart attack risk

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

New research shows that if you cannot bend over in a sitting position and touch your toes you might be at risk for heart attack or stroke. Inability to perform the simple maneuver could mean your arteries are ‘stiff’. Scientists say the toe touch test could become a simply way to predict an individual’s risk for heart attack and stroke.

Arterial stiffness often precedes diseases of the arteries that in turn lead to high blood pressure and a propensity to develop clots in the lining of the arteries, stroke and heart attack. Healthy arteries should be flexible to keep blood pressure lower. The researchers, from University of North Texas and the National Institute of Health and Nutrition, Japan speculate that flexibility of the body, measured by the ability to touch your toes, could also be a sign of healthy arteries.

The scientists studied 520 healthy, non smoking adults, age 20 to 83, to find out if sitting and reaching for the toes could be linked to vascular health. The researchers classified the participants as either poor- or high-flexibility.

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They found that middle age and older individuals who could not touch their toes while sitting had higher blood pressure (systolic). The researchers also measured the speed of a pulse of blood as it flowed through the body, and how long the pulse takes to reach the arm and the ankle and the neck and the leg.

The findings could mean that stretching can delay the onset of vascular disease that leads to stroke and heart attack, and also help with controlling blood pressure. Muscular strength and cardiorespiratory fitness was not a variable found to lead to stiffness of the arteries. The findings also did not apply to the younger study participants.

The authors write, “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.” The scientists believe that flexibility in the body may be related to flexibility of the arteries because collagen and elastin that makes muscles flexible might also keep arteries flexible, reducing risk of heart disease and stroke. The findings may mean that even if you are limited in the amount of exercise you can perform, simply reaching for the toes to improve flexibility could reduce risk of heart attack and stroke.

Reference: American Physiological Society