New research published in the Journal of Physiology shows that 12 weeks of passive stretching helps to improve blood flow by making it easier for a person's arteries to dilate.
The research has implications for diseases such as heart disease and diabetes — it suggests that a prescribed stretching routine could help prevent such illnesses.
Active versus passive stretching
Passive stretching differs from active stretching in that the former involves another person helping you stretch, whereas active stretching is performed on your own.
In order to arrive at their findings, researchers at the University of Milan assigned 39 healthy participants of both sexes to two groups. One group was used as a control and didn't undergo any stretching. The other group performed leg stretches 5 times a week for 12 weeks.
The researchers set out to evaluate the effect of passive stretching on the blood flow locally as well as in the upper arm. They discovered that, when stimulated, the arteries in both the lower leg and upper arm had increased blood flow and dilation, as well as decreased stiffness.
Potential for a drug-free treatment
In a press release, Emiliano Ce, an author on the paper said:
"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."
The researchers say that if their study is replicated in patients with vascular disease, it could indicate whether or not a passive stretching regime could serve as a drug-free alternative treatment for improving vascular health, especially in people with lower mobility.
It might also point to more widely implemented medical use of stretching during hospitalization or after surgery, in order to preserve the vascular health of patients. Passive stretching could also be performed at home by a carer or family member.