The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


The Use of a Foam Roller to Benefit Cardiovascular Health

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Live well

Thursday, Feb 05, 2015

Although foam rollers are very popular among athletes, they have been shown to provide health benefits that everyone can gain. Foam rolling is used as a form of self-myofascial release (SMR), which is a basic technique used to release tightness in the muscles, tendons, fascia, and/or soft tissues, as well as improve the range of motion of a joint. But recent findings suggest that the benefits of SMR may reach beyond the muscles and joints and to the cardiovascular system.

Normal healthy arteries are capable of dilating (relaxing) or contracting, depending on whether the goal is to increase or decrease blood flow to tissues. With the aging process, arteries tend to become more stiff and rigid; this condition is known as arteriosclerosis. As a result of this stiffening of the arteries, resting systolic blood pressure increases and the left ventricle can begin to enlarge abnormally. The stiffness of arteries is influenced by vascular endothelial function which plays a vital role in controlling vascular activity by producing nitric oxide. Nitric oxide controls blood flow to the tissues by acting as a vasodilator or blood vessel relaxant.

Arterial stiffness is a negative consequence of aging and its development can be (and should be) prevented, slowed, or at times even reversed. How, you ask? In addition to a number of other approaches, there is evidence which suggests that performing flexibility exercises such as stretching or yoga may reduce arterial stiffness. It has also been suggested that SMR may serve as an alternative method of reducing this stiffness. In a study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers specifically investigated the effects of foam rolling on arterial stiffness and vascular endothelial function. The participants of this study included ten healthy individuals (7 men and 3 women), and most had not exercised for over a year. Participants were randomly assigned to a control (CON) or SMR group. The SMR group performed foam rolling for the muscle groups of the lower extremities and the trapezius. The foam roller was placed under the target area, and the body was moved back and forth across the roller for 20 repetitions on each muscle group at 1-minute intervals. SMR was not performed during the CON trial; subjects simply rested while supine.

Several measurements were conducted before and 30 minutes after trials for both of the groups. These included blood pressure, heart rate, arterial stiffness, and plasma nitric oxide concentration. At this point, you may be wondering how arterial stiffness is measured. A cuff is placed over the brachial artery in the arm as well as on the ankle. The cuffs contain sensors that measure the velocity at which the blood travels through the artery. The higher the velocity, the more stiffness is present in the artery. Results indicated that in the SMR group, there was a significant decrease in arterial stiffness and a significant increase in plasma nitric oxide concentration while there was no significant difference in arterial stiffness or plasma nitric oxide concentration in the CON group. These findings show that SMR using a foam roller exerts a favorable outcome on arterial function, specifically reduced arterial stiffness and improved vascular endothelial function.

So your next question may be, why? While SMR using a foam roller releases tension in tight muscles or fascia, it also increases blood flow and circulation to the soft tissue, which consequently enhances flexibility and range of motion. These added effects also reduce arterial stiffness and improve vascular endothelial function.

The take away: Researchers believe that the use of SMR with a foam roller for all individuals can not only promote reduced tension and improved flexibility but can be of benefit to cardiovascular health as well!

To learn more about flexibility and SMR, consider taking The Cooper Institute’s Functional Fitness Training course.

Also, did you know February is American Heart Health month? Learn to save a life during The Cooper Institute’s CPR – Heartsaver AED Training. To stay heart healthy, check out all of the great resources the American Heart Association has to offer!



Okamoto T., Masuhara M., Ikuta K. (2013). Acute effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller on arterial function.  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 28:1:69-73.