Remember the sit-and-reach test from high school? Your results may have been more important than you thought. A study conducted at the University of North Texas suggests that yoga or other stretching disciplines may have a positive impact on overall heart health and recommends that stretching should be "integrated as a new recommendation into the known cardiovascular benefits of regular exercise."
Kinesiologist and yoga blogger Kreg Weiss recently explored this issue (see full article), citing two studies that bucked the trending opinion that yoga does not have cardiovascular benefits. The first study, conducted by K. Yamamoto, et al., found that middle-aged and older adults with limited flexibility were more likely to suffer from age-related arterial stiffening than others of the same age group with greater flexibility. The second showed that arterial stiffness can be reduced by stretching alone -- even if you don't engage in additional strength training or traditional cardio activities.
While these studies do suggest that stretching and yoga can have a positive impact on cardiovascular health, it should be mentioned that you shouldn't give up aerobic training altogether. The Center for Disease Control recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic training per week for overall heart heath.
Can't touch your toes anymore? Not to worry. Practice this short cycle of postures three times per week to improve the results of the sit and reach test.
Hold each posture for a minimum of 60 seconds each. Practice variations 1-4 until you can grab your toes. Afterward, gradually work deeper into the forward fold by gradually adding variations 5-6 to your practice.
If you have herniated disks or other back problems, make sure to consult with a yoga teacher before beginning these exercises.
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