STRETCHING IMPROVES CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH!
Surely, this is must be just another one of “those” eye-rolling statements that are carelessly thrown around by the fitness industry to sell yet another workout fad. Except not. At BBS Training Method™ we have been studying and exploring the topics of stretching, mobility training and movement from all around the globe and we’re well acquainted with the benefits of stretching for better movement, pain management, athletic optimisation, aesthetics, and overall biomechanical health. But this specific link between STRETCHING and CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH took us completely by surprise.
Of course, the deduction that improved body mobility affects our circulation & oxygen distribution is a plausible consideration - but last night, Dr Robert Schleip shared with us the Kato 2020 study, which shows CLEAR patterns of improvement in cardiovascular health when we stretch.
New Scientific Proof
I spent my birthday in the company of Dr Robert Schleip and Divo Muller, pioneers in the movement of Fascia training and research. I WISH. I actually spent my birthday glued to the screen, watching these two inspiring thought-leaders in movement and training as they unveiled the latest published research.
While we’re still working on a BBS “compendium” on Fascia, based on the courses and studies over the last five years (using our list of recommended readings, experts, courses, and resources), this was one particular takeaway from last night’s seminar that we just COULDN’T WAIT TO SHARE with our readers.
Okay. Stretching improves Cardiovascular Health... But how?
THE STUDY: The Efficacy of Stretching Exercises on Arterial Stiffness
The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2020, 17 (16), 5643
Full study available here: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/16/5643
(Quote from abstract)"Aerobic exercise is known to reduce arterial stiffness; however, high-intensity resistance exercise is associated with increased arterial stiffness. Stretching exercises are another exercise modality, and their effect on arterial stiffness remains unclear. The purpose of this study was to determine whether stretching exercises reduce arterial stiffness in middle-aged and older adults." THEIR CONCLUSIONS: "Our meta-analyses demonstrated that stretching exercises reduced arterial stiffness, HR, and DBP, and improved endothelial function, which are crucial parameters of arteriosclerosis in middle-aged and older adults." Data from the testing centres including:
Department of Physical Therapy, Shizuoka, Japan
Anti-aging Center, Ginza Hospital, Tokyo
Department of Physical Therapy, Niigata University of Health and Welfare
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? WHAT HAS CHANGED WITH THIS STUDY?
We already know from previous studies that stretching helps to release the stiffness in your body: your muscles, joints, tendons, and connective tissues (Fascia), but now we know that it has a direct impact on your ARTERIES!
In this study group of adults over the age of 40, stretching showed a significant impact on CARDIOVASCULAR ELASTICITY by REDUCING ARTERIAL STIFFNESS.
Reduced arterial stiffness helps to facilitate the passage of blood through the body’s circulatory system, reducing blood pressure and pulse rate at rest.
Stretching has both a biomechanical effect (a difference in the appearance and behaviour of our tissues) AND a biochemical effect (a chemical change in our body and blood composition).
The hard science hypothesis (AKA special bonus considerations for the sports science geeks) - these changes are suspected to be triggered by reduced sympathetic activation, an increase in fibroblast (cells that make collagen) production in the surrounding fascia, a stimulation of antioxidant enzyme production, and - drum roll please - an ENHANCED PRODUCTION OF NITRIC OXIDE (NO) in the endothelial cells, increasing our ability to absorb and utilise oxygen.
Previous research has shown us that:
Stretching helps you relax
It helps your skin make more collagen
Your body becomes more elastic (organs, tissues, muscles)
You can regenerate cartilage (at a mild intensity of stretching and movement)
It helps you to manage muscular pain (with the correct practice)
This new research shows that stretching:
Helps arteries become more supple and pliable
Reduces the heart rate, reducing the effects of heart disease.
The direct cause has not yet been pinpointed, but it is suspected that our tissue cells are becoming more efficient at absorbing and utilising oxygen when we stretch. Isn’t this amazing? Now you have a MULTITUDE of reasons to head to your stretch/yoga/Pilates/barre/flow/tai chi class!! And one of them is improving your cardiovascular fitness!
GREAT! FAST FOOD AND A CIGGY FOR DINNER, and then I'll stretch!
Erm, not quite.
Dr Schleip was there to remind us of CONTEXT and that stretching is not THE solution but forms part of a bigger picture. For a physiological change to take place, “it must be approached from different angles” - there is no ONE solution, but there is a better combination. This brings us back to the principle of a holistic approach to training (for our health, skill, or athletic development). Focusing on one specialisation or training approach may not be enough to catalyse change, but a multi-faceted approach will be.
GREAT! I’LL JUST STRETCH AND DO NOTHING ELSE!
Stretching without strengthening leads to hypermobility. This means we become over-bendy and risk joint injuries. Yes - overstretching can lead to just as many problems as no stretching at all. Stretching without strengthening is like growing a plant with water but no sunlight. The Yin without the Yang. All sugar, no spice. Ever heard of DOSING? Yes, as cliché as it sounds, it’s about balance. Strength and flexibility are friends. Long AND strong.
Your body and cardiovascular system also need a boost to improve other aspects of your cardiovascular health. Flexy arteries are just one part of the picture, though: your heart and lungs need the workout as well. So, 2 or 3 times per week, it’s useful (read: essential) to engage in a heart-rate-raising activity for at least 45 minutes, and it can (but doesn’t have to) include a trip to the gym. Running around the park with your children most definitely counts. Dancing all night long also counts. (The eight tequila shots, however, do not.)
NOT ALL STRETCHING IS EQUAL
Before you go pull on your hamstrings, remember that not all stretching is equal and in order to get real benefits here, you MUST employ a gradual approach to your flexibility training. If you’ve been a couch potato your whole life, would you start off your activity by visiting a CROSS-FIT gym on day 1? Not a great idea: your body needs GRADUAL ADAPTATION to develop the correct biochemical and biomechanical change over time. This kind of shock therapy is just a fast-way ticket to the emergency room or, at best, it'll take you straight to Frustration Central or Plateau Station.
Stretching is the same: there is a WHOLE menu of varieties that can be right for you depending on your current level and your goals - dynamic, static, ballistic, passive, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), eccentric loading, eccentric fatigue, mobility training, myofascial release, myofascial gliding…. HELP. WHAT THE HELL IS ALL THIS?? I just thought I was here to stretch.
OK, why don't you take it slow and try this stretching sequence for your shoulders, chest, and back? To start with a dynamic yet controlled approach to stretching that helps you to shake off the cobwebs and unlock stiff areas is a great place to start. You can come back for more when you're ready to level up.
BE THERE for your own body, and BE YOUR OWN CURE! Move more, stretch, and find joy in every movement.
TRAINING - THE MAIN TAKEAWAY:
Beware of any program or “specialist” that claims to have THE solution to stretching or flexibility. There is no such thing as THE solution, just as there is no such thing as “THE” model human being. VARIETY and a combination of approaches is the best way to train flexibility, especially if we consider our unique situations, heritage, genetics, and OUR individual physical needs.
Stay alert, stay interested, and just keep moving!
Move - in a way that FEELS GOOD to you!
COMING UP: AT MAVERICKS ACTIVE WORKSPACE: Fascia Workshop - French (November 20th 2021)
ONLINE ON BBS TRAINING ACADEMY: BBS LONG & STRONG L1 online course (COMING SOON) includes a few different approaches suitable for all levels (from complete beginners to athletes and coaches). In the L1 course, we share the basics of stretching and introduce different approaches, safety and performance guidelines. SUBSCRIBE BELOW TO RECEIVE MORE NEWS AND UPDATES.