Do this quick self-check of heart health

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Touching your toes used to be a gym-class requirement in elementary school.

Why? A new study suggests that your ability to touch your toes as you get older could reveal something important about your heart. In particular, about the stiffness of the arteries that serve your heart.

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Well, my arteries must be nearly petrified since I can’t even reach  my ankles.  Hello knees!   I can touch them while sitting in a chair (as above).  Does that count? Naw.

When it comes to muscles, flexibility is a good thing. And the same goes for your blood vessels. The more limber and elastic those vessels are, the better they maintain healthy blood pressure. Now, research suggests there might be a connection between flexible muscles and stretchy blood vessels.

In a study, adults 40 and older who had a harder time touching their toes from a sitting position also tended to have stiffer arteries. Their systolic blood pressure numbers were also a bit higher than their more limber peers. (Did you pass the toe-touch test?)

Not a Stretch
What’s behind this flexibility and heart health connection isn’t clear, but we already know that exercising regularly can help delay some of the age-related changes that take place in our blood vessels as we get older — like arterial stiffening. So keep those feet moving and your muscles supple and strong to avoid being sidelined by injury.

My goal is to touch my toes by Easter.  I’ve got a Yoga tape ready to punch in the DVR.  But I’m wondering if touching your toes again will magically improve the condition of the arteries.  Probably not.

Quick Tip

Try the basic hamstring stretch (from a standing position, knees locked, bend over and see how low you can go).  My source says five minutes every day will get you there but by when, 2012?

Now, let’s get into some basics…

hamstringstretchstanding First of all, you must realize that your hamstrings are very large muscles. They often need a long time to stretch out to their fullest. It can take months of stretching to get to a reasonably flexible level. So don’t expect any super-quick results.

A very important, but often overlooked, part of these stretches is the breathing. Proper breathing can make them work amazingly well. The proper technique goes like this… Breathe in – stretch and increase the tension on your hamstrings.  Breathe out and consciously relax the muscle.

Keep doing this… You should feel your body relax and get into a rhythm. This is when your muscles start to release their tension and you might go a few inches lower!

Speaking of relaxing…

Rather than trying to stretch your hamstring, sometimes it is better to think of it more as relaxing your hamstring. What we’re trying to say is not to stretch it too hard. It can make you tense up and it will be very hard to make any progress with the stretch.

Get to know your own body and you will feel what is the right amount. If you put too much pressure you will feel your body resisting. If you then release some of that pressure you will feel your body relax a little. Try it out and see what happens.

Now, let’s say you’re doing the basic touch toes stretch…

A common mistake made by a lot of people is that they try to get their head down to their knee’s. With this goal in mind you will tend to stretch the muscles of your neck and back more than you do for your hamstrings. What you ideally want to do is imagine your body bending right at the hips. Do not worry about getting your head down further or your arms out further. Just worry about getting your abdomen flat with your thighs first of all. Then, after your flexibility increases, you can begin to move your head down until you are lying flat on your legs.

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