One of the questions most asked of vein doctors by women and by an increasing number of men is, “Is it safe for me to exercise – and exercise hard – if I have varicose veins or have been told that I am at increased risk of developing them because of my heredity?” This is a good question, so in this article we’ll answer it and try to provide some tips on how to exercise safely if you have vein disease or are at risk for it.
In general, exercise helps to keep your veins healthy
Your veins actually take advantage of the contraction of muscles in your legs to pump blood back to your heart. So most types of aerobic exercise are good for your veins, because they work your calf and leg muscles and thus improve healthy blood flow. This should theoretically be true even if you have a high vein disease risk because close members of your family have had it. And even if you already have varicose veins, doctors recommend regular exercise because it improves your overall circulation. However, some types of exercise may be less good for you than others.
Extreme exercise can put pressure on veins already damaged by disease
Because internal pressure in blood vessels damaged by vein disease may already be high, exercises that involve straining and lifting may increase the pressure even more, and thus put undue strain on your circulation. So there are certain types of exercise that your vein doctor may advise against, such as lifting weights, doing leg squats, crunches, sit-ups, and lunges.
TIP:If you enjoy lifting weights and have a high vein disease risk, you should ask your doctor about wearing compression socks or stockings while exercising to help keep blood flowing “upwards” towards the heart. If you already have varicose veins, ask your doctors about this and other forms of extreme exercise (including competitive running) and follow their advice.
Gentle exercise may be better for those with high vein disease risk
In general, walking is the best exercise for most people. Walking works the muscles in your legs and calves and improves your circulation, but without the continual impact and pounding that happens when you run, especially on hard pavement. So if you want to establish a safe and healthy exercise regimen, a good start is to set yourself a goal of walking at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Your veins and your overall health will thank you for it!
Many other forms of low-impact exercise are also safe if you have varicose veins or high vein disease risk. Bicycling (or riding a stationary bike) or using an elliptical trainer works the calf muscles and improves venous blood flow without placing stress on your joints and bones.
If you already have varicose veins and they have become so painful that even walking or mild exercise doesn’t seem feasible, it is important to remember that you can perform healthy circulation exercises even while sitting down. Flexing your calf muscles and rotating your ankles helps to maintain healthy blood flow. Also, while sitting or standing, rocking your feet on the ground from heel to toe activates the calf pumping mechanism and improves circulation. Mild exercise like this won’t get rid of your varicose veins, but it can ease some of the uncomfortable symptoms.
If you have further questions about exercise and vein disease, please contact The Vein Institute on 1300 535 017 to book an initial consultation.