So many conditions can affect your blood’s ability to circulate through your body. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD), chronic venous disease (CVD) and even varicose veins can all make it harder for blood to flow into or out of certain areas of your body, especially your lower extremities. That’s the bad news, but here’s some good: there are things you can do to improve that circulation. And, in this post, we’ll share our three favorites. But first, let’s help you figure out if compromised circulation may be affecting your health.
Symptoms of Poor Circulation
No matter what condition impacts your circulation, you will likely experience: pain, tingling, numbness and muscle cramps. Any of these symptoms should send you to see your vein doctor, so you can be scanned for conditions that may be affecting your blood flow. Once the cause of your circulatory problems has been diagnosed, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following therapies to improve your blood flow.
Hot and Cold Therapy
Changes in temperature can improve blood circulation. When trying cold changes, we can apply ice packs, cold sprays or even an ice massage. Cooling the area with poor blood flow initially constricts blood vessels in the area; when they warm up and dilate gain, blood flow to the area improves. A direct application of hot packs or other warming devices dilates your blood vessels, improving blood flow in the same manner as the after-effects of cold therapy.
Compression Therapy to Improve Circulation
Compression stockings improve circulation by putting pressure on your leg. That pressure helps push blood from the bottom of your legs into the deep venous system. And that helps blood return to your heart, helping mitigate symptoms of poor circulation. Even more importantly, compression therapy can reduce or eliminate edema (swelling that occurs in your legs, ankles or feet) and can help reduce the risk of DVT (deep vein thrombosis, a potentially deadly condition that often develops without any warning signs.)
Improve Circulation as you Eat the Rainbow
Following a vein-health diet is a great, natural way to boost your blood flow. And a key part of that diet is colorful fruits and veggies. Why does color matter? The rainbow hues mean lots of flavonoids, which are a group of helpful nutrients that also give color to plants. When you eat a flavonoid such as anthocyanin, (found in deep red, blue and purple foods such as blueberries), the nutrients can help protect your blood vessel’s lining by strengthening their walls and fighting inflammation.
Now, as a group, flavonoids have another important job to do for your circulation. They can increase nitric oxide levels in your blood, which relaxes (dilates) your blood vessels. Once dilated, it’s easier for blood to circulate through your vessels. In addition to the berries, look for brightly colored choices such as purple cabbage, black plums and red beets to score the maximum benefits.
And that’s not all. New studies show that upping your daily flavanoid intake decreases your risk of PAD hospitalizations. But you don’t have to go crazy on your intake: the benefits max out at a certain level. Rather, to get the best PAD complication boost, aim for between 750mg and 1000mg per day. (Lots of foods contain flavanoids, but not all are created equal. Unsweetened baking cocoa has 206 mg for every 100 grams. One cup of blueberries, in contrast, has about 400mg of flavanoids. And for the real homerun, try a cup of green tea, which contains up to 1000 mg of flavanoids. In other words, your goal for the day!)
Spice Things Up
Certain supplements, such as ginkgo biloba and cayenne pepper, are known to stimulate circulation. How does this work? Both supplements relax (or dilate) your blood vessels. Which, as we’ve reviewed before, makes it easier for blood to flow freely through your body.
When you exercise, your muscles become stronger. And when your muscles are stronger, they are better able to help pump blood back to your heart. For this reason, any weight-bearing exercise that your doctor approves can help improve your circulation. Aerobic exercise also improves your circulation—walking is a great option because it is low impact. Exercising in the pool packs a double whammy, because your body is able to feel lighter and move longer when you are floating in the water.
How does exercise improve circulation at the level of your veins? It helps your valves pump blood up and out of your legs, moving back to your heart. Plus, exercise can help your body form new blood vessels. This is important if you already have varicose veins, since the new vessels can help take pressure off ones that aren’t working optimally.
And here’s a fun, pandemic friendly exercise tip for boosting circulation: try jumping on your trampoline! Yup, that’s right: bouncing isn’t just for kids. In fact, purchasing a mini-trampoline for indoor exercise is a very grown-up way to boost your vein health. That’s because, jumping (also called rebounding) on the trampoline can help reduce the pooling blood associated with varicose veins. It can also boost your circulation, and help you build stronger, healthier veins. Wondering how long you have to jump around? Here’s the good news : according to one rebounding study, you just need five minutes, three times a day, to boost your circulation.
Now, why is exercise so effective? As you move, you increase blood flow throughout your body. In other words, you force your blood to circulate!
Improving circulation will help manage the symptoms of decreased circulation, but if you want lasting relief, you will need to treat the underlying cause of your symptoms. So, if you have leg cramps, tingling or other symptoms of decreased blood flow, come see one of our Houston area vein specialists to discuss your treatment options.