Hundreds of years ago, English physician Thomas Sydenham taught that “a man is as old as his arteries”. We don’t usually think about the health of our arteries until something goes wrong (like an ER admission, heart attack, erectile dysfunction, or sudden death). It is not common to measure the “age” of arteries directly, although I do so with state-of-the-art equipment at the Kahn Center.
Fascinating data has emerged in recent years suggesting that the flexibility of the spine and joints predicts the flexibility of the arteries. Additional data indicates that yoga can help keep our arteries in a youthful state. Now, new data confirms this.
Data on the flexibility and health of the arteries
1. The flexibility of the spine is related to the flexibility of the arteries.
Japanese evaluated researchers the ability of 526 adults aged 20 to 83 to sit up and reach their toes, a measure of spinal flexibility. Arterial stiffness (or aging) was measured by a technique using ultrasound. In patients over 40 years of age, vertebral and arterial flexibility were related. Spinal flexibility predicted arterial youth independently of general fitness and muscle strength.
The authors hypothesized that spinal and arterial flexibility might share similar components of muscle and collagen connective tissue. They also suggested that stretching reduces the sympathetic (or fight-or-flight) limb of our nervous system and that less sympathetic activity relaxes the arteries.
2. Stretching exercises improve the flexibility of the arteries.
Scientists had sedentary but healthy men and women participate in 13 weeks of strength training, cardio or stretching exercises. Only the group doing stretching exercises showed improvement in arterial flexibility measured by sophisticated ultrasound techniques. These authors also suggested that stretching reduces the constriction of arteries by reducing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.
3. Yoga improves the flexibility of the arteries.
The researchers measured arterial flexibility in 42 people beginning a 90-minute Bikram yoga practice three times a week for 8 weeks. In the 24 younger patients, arterial flexibility was improved at the end of the study. Cholesterol and insulin levels also dropped after yoga training.
More data on artery flexibility and health
Another recent study looked at 39 participants who were assigned to passive bilateral stretching, unilateral stretching, or no stretching. Vascular function measured before and after 12 weeks of stretching. After 12 weeks of stretching, vascular function increased in several different arterial systems in the legs and arms. No change occurred in those who did not stretch. Vascular function improved and arterial stiffness was reduced in stretched arteries, whether on one or both sides of the body. After the exercises were stopped, the gains returned to baseline within 6 weeks. The authors concluded that after passive stretching, vascular function and arterial remodeling improved and arterial stiffness decreased in all arteries.
Stretching, back yoga classes, and heated hatha yoga classes are great ways to improve flexibility. The arteries seem to benefit from maintaining these practices. The ability of a yoga practice to lower blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels and insulin secretion is well established. Maintaining and improving flexibility leads to many health benefits, including younger arteries. As Dr. Sydenham predicted over 400 years ago, as the arteries regain a healthier and more youthful pattern, so does the entire body. I practice a daily flexibility and stretching ritual called the Five Tibetans which is featured in a separate Kahn Center article.
About the Author: Deep down, Dr. Joel Kahn believes that plant-based nutrition is the most powerful source of preventative medicine on the planet. Having practiced traditional cardiology since 1983, it wasn’t until his own commitment to a plant-based vegan diet that he really began to delve into the realm of non-traditional diagnostic tools, prevention tactics, and nutrition-based recovery protocols.
Article courtesy of Dr. Joel Kahn, MD, who is Clinical Professor of Medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine, one of the world’s top cardiologists, best-selling author, speaker, and leading nutrition expert herbal and holistic caring.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice. please consult your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.