Boosting circulation is advised by every medical professional there is – and for good reason. Healthy blood flow helps your muscles and body to recover quicker, allows for more efficient movement and functioning, and reduces the likelihood of disease or injury. When circulation is impaired in the legs, it can lead to varicose veins, leg pain, swelling and more. Luckily, there are ways to improve it.
Why is the cause of poor blood circulation?
Low levels of physical activity
Unfortunately, long periods of inactivity (like sitting for 8 hours at the office) result in much less muscle movement, so your veins will have a harder time moving blood out of the legs.
While the heart will have no trouble jettisoning blood through healthy arteries, your veins can’t rely on this organ. Instead, they rely on surrounding muscles to pump blood back to your heart. By contracting and expanding at the right pressures, the lower leg muscles help circulate blood to regulate and ensure the whole body has healthy blood circulation. In fact, the muscular pump in the calf is so important that many refer to it as the second heart.
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
Peripheral arterial disease is the result of plaque in the arteries. over time, plaque builds up, causing blood vessels to stiffen, narrow and worsen circulation.
Obesity can complicate circulation in several ways:
- Excess weight puts excess pressure on the circulatory system, especially in the legs and abdomen
- It puts you at risk of developing diabetes, which carries its own complications for circulation
- It can result in more fatty deposits in your blood vessels, leading to atherosclerosis or PAD
Diabetes is characterised by persistently high levels of blood glucose. Over time, it can damage nerves and blood vessels throughout the body, including the legs and feet. Diabetes also puts you at risk of high blood pressure, circulatory disorders like PAD, and heart disease.
Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI)
Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI) develops when the valves in your veins – responsible for stopping the backward flow of blood – malfunction and can no longer close properly. As blood starts slipping backwards and pooling in the vein instead of travelling to the heart, circulation in that area worsens.
In some cases, if left unmanaged, CVI can even progress into varicose veins and spider veins.
Tips to improve blood circulation naturally
Get adequate nutrition
The best way to bolster your circulation is by eating foods that support your veins. Certain fruits and veggies contain micronutrients that are vital to ensuring good vascular health:
- Folic acid helps the body repair cells and vascular tissue. Furthermore, folic acid is instrumental in promoting the creation of red blood cells, preventing anaemia while promoting blood clotting. Make sure to include plenty of dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and beans in your diet.
- Flavonoids improve circulation by keeping the blood flowing, making it less likely to pool in your veins. Flavonoids also help to reduce blood pressure and relax blood vessels, all of which can reduce varicose veins. Foods that contain flavonoids include: onions, garlic, cayenne pepper, bell peppers, spinach, broccoli, grapes, cherries and blueberries.
- Grape seed extract contains a powerful antioxidant compound that has been shown to ease the symptoms of varicose veins and CVI. It has also demonstrated the ability to maintain healthy blood pressure and reduce swelling in the legs. Caution: If you’re taking doctor-prescribed blood thinners you should avoid grape seed extract as it can interfere with your medication and increase your risk of developing complications.
Avoid highly processed foods that contain high levels of sodium. These can cause your body to retain water and impair normal blood circulation. On the other hand, food rich in potassium (almonds, potatoes, salmon and beans) tends to minimise water retention and bloating.
Learn to relax
Although stress doesn’t cause CVI or varicose veins, chronic stress can exacerbate your symptoms. Managing stress levels, therefore, is very important when it comes to maintaining the health of your veins in the long term. Below are some relaxation techniques you can use to minimise daily stress and help you unwind:
- Daily moderate exercise – yoga, swimming, hiking, walking your dog or riding a bike can all have a positive effect on your circulatory system. Particularly, if your profession requires you to sit or stand all day, make time throughout your day to stretch or walk around to help with circulation.
- Get a massage – Regular massage is not only incredibly relaxing but it helps to alleviate pain and symptoms by improving local circulation, muscle tone and overall tissue health. Keep in mind that your therapists should avoid massaging varicose veins directly and always massage towards the heart.
Avoid clothes that restrict circulation
High heels may look great but they can be terrible for your circulation. The same can be said about tight socks or pants – all of which can impair healthy blood flow and promote the formation of varicose veins. Comfortable, loose-fitting garments are the most suitable if you suffer from CVI or varicose veins. If you must wear heels for work then look into orthopaedic styles that are gentler on your feet and leg veins.
Fight the effects of gravity
If your feet and legs are sore at the end of the day then you know first-hand how gravity can cause blood to pool in your lower extremities. A simple solution is to elevate your feet when you get home to take the pressure off your legs. This counteracts gravity by helping the blood flow more easily back towards the heart.
Another solution is compression garments. These work by stimulating circulation and relieving stress on the veins.
- Glute bridges
This exercise activates and strengthens the glutes, which help the rest of your legs move properly.
- Calf raises
Calf raises are a great way to build up strength and flexibility in the Achilles tendons and calves, helping not only to boost blood flow and strengthen the muscles but give your legs more resistance against injury.
- Leg raises
This builds up strength along the whole leg and helps blood flow in the short term as well.
While it might seem basic, going for regular walks is one of the most effective and widely beneficial forms of exercise. To make sure you’re getting the most out of the activity, you need to walk for at least 20 minutes at a time.
Seek expert advice
The doctors at The Vein Institute specialise in varicose vein treatment. We offer patients a comprehensive program using non-surgical laser treatment techniques. You can learn more in our Definitive Guide to Varicose Vein Treatment.
To book a consultation and discuss our treatment program, call 13 VEINS (that’s 13 83467). Or enquire via the Contact Us page.