Flexibility test hints at heart disease risk

Would you know whether your arteries were stiffer than a double martini? New research suggests there’s a way to know that doesn’t involve doctors, insurance or machinery.

An easy sit-and-reach test that indicates how flexible your body is might also tell you how flexible your arteries are. In people older than 40, a stiffer body corresponded to stiffer arteries (and higher heart disease risk).

The test: Warm up for 10 minutes (easy walking is fine). Then sit on the floor with your feet straight out in front of you, feet about 12 inches apart. Place a yardstick between your feet, with zero pointing toward your body and the 15-inch mark even with your heels. Tape it in place. Place one hand on top of the other, lightly touching the yardstick. Now, reach forward slowly by dropping your head toward or between your arms, maintaining contact with the yardstick. Have someone check where your fingertips landed. Average flexibility for someone age 40 to 45 means hitting the 15-inch mark if you’re male, 17 if you’re female. The range shortens by about 2 inches per decade for men beyond age 45 (until age 66, in which case average guys still hit the 10 or 11); 1 inch per decade for women beyond 45.

True, people and their arteries are more flexible when they do more cardiovascular exercise. But this study looked at flexibility independent of that and still found a link. So, will stretching, yoga and Pilates soften up your arteries? There’s no answer yet, but don’t wait to dive in. They’re smart components of any exercise routine.

DO FOOD LABELS MAKe YOU FAT?

Can’t believe that that rich-tasting, satisfying 500-calorie entree that was marked with the “healthy” symbol was only 500 calories? It might not have been.

When a team of research sleuths ordered from the “lower in calories” selections at 29 sit-down restaurants in the Boston area, they found that the meals delivered an average of 18 percent more calories than the menu said they did. So a 500-calorie meal could bring with it an extra 90 calories. And maybe a whole lot more: A number of the restaurants also served up free side dishes, some of which doled out even more calories than were in the entree they came with.

If all this sends you to your supermarket’s frozen section for an entree, well, rethink that, too. Ten frozen meals that were tested averaged 8 percent more calories than advertised.

This doesn’t mean that all calorie counts are off. Or that you shouldn’t use them as guidelines. But it does mean that you shouldn’t depend on the calorie counts to tell you whether you should eat the whole thing. Instead, rely on your taste buds to help you enjoy every mouthful, and your gut and brain to tell you to stop when you’re just about satisfied.

To submit questions, go to www.RealAge. com, the docs’ online home. Their columns run Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

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