A program of simple stretching exercises may help improve cardiovascular health.

Italian researchers randomly assigned 39 volunteers to three groups. The first did a 12-week program, five 40-minute sessions a week, of bilateral leg, ankle and foot stretching. The second group did the same exercises, but on only the right side of the body and in 20-minute sessions. A control group did no stretching at all.

Using ultrasound and other techniques, the researchers measured blood flow, artery stiffness and blood pressure in all participants before and after the stretching regimens. The researchers found that in both stretching groups, vascular function improved throughout the body, even in arteries in areas uninvolved in the stretching exercises. Blood flow increased significantly in the thigh, knee and arm arteries, while blood pressure and arterial stiffness decreased. There were no changes in the controls.

The improvements, however, did not last. Within six weeks of stopping the program, vascular functions returned to the original levels. The findings were published in the Journal of Physiology.

The senior author, Dr. Fabio Esposito, dean of the school of exercise science at the University of Milan, said that stretching can be helpful to people who are injured or otherwise incapable of more vigorous physical exertion.

But, he added, the benefits of stretching are modest, and “we’re not recommending that you substitute stretching for aerobic exercise.”