Disease is defined as a condition that impairs normal, healthy functioning. Stiffness is like a disease that, once present in the body, spreads and remains dormant (shows no obvious symptoms but still poses risks).
Stiffness in the aorta, otherwise known as aortic stiffness, has come to be known as the “master metric” due to its unique ability to assess full-body health and predict lifespan. The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body and runs along the spine from the chest to the abdomen where it is surrounded by abdominal organs. Due to the aorta’s location in the body, it acts as a surrogate measure for stiffness in the spine, ribcage, diaphragm and abdomen. Its relationship to these areas makes it a comprehensive indicator of functioning inside the body, as it relates to the health of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and organ function. Research has shown that aortic stiffness is reflective of your risk of death from all causes.
Stiffness moves from one area of the body to another in a very systematic way. For example, if you injure your ankle, stiffness in this area restricts normal movement. This often results in a change in the way you walk as the body tries to compensate. Over time, you may notice stiffness all along that side of your body in your knee, hip, back, and shoulder. When walking, these areas all move in a coordinated fashion as muscle and connective tissue connect them and make them interdependent. Even a slight change in how you walk can cause other areas involved in walking to be used differently and become tight. Because of the body's interconnectedness, stiffness in one area affects surrounding structures that depend on its motion for normal functioning.
Similarly, poor spinal flexibility limits spinal mobility. The rib cage and diaphragm are attached to the spine, and reduced mobility in the spine causes restricted mobility in the ribcage and tightness in the diaphragm muscle.
During breathing the diaphragm, rib cage, and spine all move in harmony, so stiffness and reduced mobility make the breathing process less efficient. Effective breathing is vital for maintaining healthy functioning in the body. Breathing facilitates the delivery of oxygen and removal of carbon dioxide from the body’s tissues, as well promotes the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain and blood in organ tissue.
Pressure changes generated in the chest cavity during breathing translate into similar pressure changes in the spinal canal and abdominal cavity that foster these processes and encourage healthy brain and organ functioning. Spinal stiffness also translates into stiffness in the aorta, which increases your risk of cardiovascular events and disease, cognitive decline, and organ disease. This video further illustrates this point.
iHeart is a fingertip device and mobile app that helps you to see how stiffness in your body is affecting your health. Make healthy lifestyle choices to reduce stiffness by improving your core mobility – mobility of the spine, rib cage, diaphragm muscle and other core structures and tissues – and promote healthy functioning with effective breathing.