Muscle stretching, performed on a daily basis, could help improve blood flow to the muscles in the lower legs, which could bring health benefits to elderly people and others with reduced mobility, according to researchers.

The researchers, from Florida State University, Kansas State University, and the University of Electro-communications in Tokyo, suggest that regular muscular stretching, when performed five times per week, for four weeks, also helps improve the function of arteries in the muscles of the lower legs, and increases the number of capillaries within the stretched muscles.

These results may have particularly important implications for elderly people with lower leg problems for whom walking is difficult due to pain or lack of mobility. Additionally, patients with peripheral artery disease and patients with foot or leg problems related to conditions such as diabetes might be able to use muscular stretching to improve blood flow to their lower limbs and increase or regain walking function, explains a media release from The Physiological Society.

In the study, published recently in The Journal of Physiology, the researchers placed splints on the lower limb of aged rats so that the calf muscles were stretched while the splint was in place. The splints were placed on one leg for 30 minutes, 5 days per week, for 4 weeks.

They then compared blood flow, arterial function, and the number of capillaries in the muscles of the stretched lower limb to the unstretched, contralateral limb, the release continues.

“The benefits of exercise are well known, but elderly people with limited mobility are often less likely to take part. Our research suggests that static muscle stretching performed regularly can have a real impact by increasing blood flow to muscles in the lower leg. This highlights that even individuals who struggle to walk due to pain or lack of mobility can undertake activity to possibly improve their health,” says Dr Judy Muller-Delp, Professor of Biomedical Sciences at the Florida State University College of Medicine and the study’s lead researcher, in the release.

“We did not test a range of stretching or a different timeframe for the stretching intervention. It is possible that greater stretch or stretch that increases steadily over the four week period would have an even greater benefit. It is also possible that greater benefit would be seen if the stretching continued for longer than 4 weeks,” she adds.

[Source: The Physiological Society]