A simple test can help determine whether a patient suffers from arterial stiffness, often a precursor to cardiovascular disease.

Investigators in Japan divided 526 healthy, nonsmoking adults with BMI <30 into three groups: Young (age 20 to 39 years); middle-aged (age 40 to 59 years); and older (age 60 to 83 years).

Physiologists measured trunk flexibility through a “sit-and-reach” test. The person sits on the floor with hips, back, and head against the wall and legs held out straight in front by a research assistant. Holding a digital flexibility-testing device with both hands and arms held straight, the person then slowly bends forward reaching as far as possible. 

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Although no relationship between flexibility and arterial stiffness existed in the young subjects, poorer flexibility was associated with more arterial stiffening in the other two sets of participants, independent of cardiorespiratory fitness and muscular strength.

“These results support our hypothesis that a less flexible body indicates arterial stiffening, especially in middle-aged and older adults,” the researchers write (Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2009;297:H1314-H1318). “Furthermore, age-related arterial stiffening was greater . . . in the poor-flexibility than in the high-flexibility groups, which suggests that poor flexibility is associated with greater age-related arterial stiffening.”