How stretching your legs can improve your heart – especially in middle-age

Stretching doesn't just boost flexibility, but it also improves heart health by encouraging circulation

Man stretching
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Stretching is important. It's not exciting, and people often forget to do it, but stretching is absolutely vital when it comes to preventing injury and ensuring our muscles stay healthy. A good stretch also feels immensely satisfying.

However, whether you're doing the stretching exercises suggested in our guide or you've not so much as touched your toes in years, evidence suggests stretching is extremely beneficial to lots of different areas of our life, notably our heart health. 

Research from Japanese universities (opens in new tab) studied the effects of four weeks of stretching exercises on middle-aged men – a sample average of 43 years old. Each session comprised 30 minutes of "mild stretching" that moved the major muscle groups through the full range of motion, and stretches were held three times for 20 seconds.

The researchers found flexibility naturally increased, but "arterial stiffness" also improved. This is a term for how easily blood flows around the body: "stiff" arteries correspond with worse cardiovascular health, and high arterial stiffness is linked to heart disease and advanced ageing. It seems by stretching the muscle, you're also encouraging circulation, reducing the likelihood of future blood clots and improving your heart's overall health. 

Woman stretching after exercise outdoors

(Image credit: Avi Richards/Unsplash)

The researchers write: "Large elastic artery stiffness is progressively greater with advancing age even in healthy people. An increase in arterial stiffness is also as an independent risk factor for future cardiovascular disease. Therefore, the prevention and treatment of arterial stiffening are of paramount importance."

Regular stretching also lengthens our muscle, increasing our range of motion and fighting off the effects of ageing. A full range of motions means greater mobility both now and in our old age. Think of a flexible yogi versus an elderly person with limited movement.

Our best yoga mats are required browsing when it comes to stretching, as yoga is famous for its ability to improve flexibility and hold difficult positions. Below is one of our favorite yoga flows from Cat Taylor at Find Your Happiness (opens in new tab).

Even full-body exercise equipment such as the best rowing machines can help improve muscle health and range of motion, as you can use the rowing machine's sliding seat to double-up as pilates style equipment.

Matt Evans
News Editor

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.