Most people know that regular exercise is good for you. It can help to maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of disease and even improve brain function, but did you know that exercise is good for your veins as well? Exercise not only promotes healthy circulation and blood flow, but it also helps you to stay in shape. Obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for venous disease or venous insufficiency, of which varicose veins and spider veins are a symptom. When it comes to working out for vein health, however, not all exercises are created equally. At The Vein Care Center of Florida & South Baldwin, we’ve put together a guide of some exercises that can help to strengthen and improve your veins and those you should avoid if you are already affected by varicose veins.
Sitting or standing for prolonged periods is a big risk factor for venous insufficiency and varicose veins. Regularly sitting or standing for an extended amount of time results in poor leg circulation and makes it more difficult for your veins to move blood back to your heart. Consequently, blood can pool in your leg veins, increasing the pressure within and putting stress on the vein walls and valves. Over time, this weakens and damages them, leading to venous insufficiency.
If you sit or stand continuously at work, taking a break every half hour to walk around can help promote good blood circulation. Walking is a low-impact exercise appropriate for people of all ages and fitness levels. A brief, brisk walk, whether on your break at work at later in the evening, can have a surprisingly positive effect on not only the health of your veins but your overall health. Just 30 minutes of walking each day improves circulation, strengthens and stretches your leg muscles, and helps to maintain healthy blood pressure.
Bicycling is another low-impact exercise that is beneficial for vein health. Regular cycling can improve circulation without negatively impacting your joints and help to strengthen and build your leg muscles, such as the calves. By exercising the calf muscles, you improve the calf muscle pump — the muscle pump that facilitates healthy circulation by “pushing” blood in the leg veins upward to help ensure that it returns to the heart. Studies have found that poor calf muscle pump functionality may contribute to a progressive worsening of symptoms in patients with venous insufficiency, but regular exercise can help keep these muscles healthy.
Yoga is a low-impact exercise that engages the whole body, helping to maintain fitness levels while improving circulation. By combining gentle stretches with a variety of poses that create a balance between strength and flexibility, yoga can help to alleviate some of the pain and swelling associated with venous insufficiency and varicose veins. The dual benefit of exercise and relaxation can also have a positive impact on stress levels and high blood pressure. Yoga won’t cure or prevent venous disease, but it can be beneficial for symptom management by helping to improve blood flow and circulation. Talk to your doctor first to determine which yoga poses might be beneficial to you and if there are any you should avoid.
According to Harvard Health, swimming is the number one “best exercise” for improving overall health and well-being regardless of age or fitness level. Swimming is especially great for those with arthritis or low mobility due to the supportive buoyancy of the water, which protects the joints, muscles and veins from stress or injury. Muscle groups in the legs, arms, shoulders and abdomen are engaged all at once, allowing patients to strengthen and build muscle without the strain that other exercises can produce. Swimming also improves circulation and provides a great low-impact cardio workout for healthier veins.
5. Leg Lifts
Leg lifts and leg stretches are an exercise that can help aid the body in redirecting blood flow back to the heart while reducing discomfort and swelling due to venous insufficiency. Leg lifts don’t require any special equipment and can be done anywhere to strengthen the leg muscles and improve circulation. Simply lay flat on the floor and lift one leg at a time, holding it in the air for a few seconds before slowly lowering it and repeating the exercise with your other leg.
Exercises to Avoid
If you are affected by venous insufficiency and varicose veins, there are some exercises that can strain your leg muscles, joints and veins. Exercise that is too strenuous can have the opposite effect on circulation and impede blood flow, worsening the symptoms of venous disease.
While running helps to strengthen your calf muscles, it can be hard on your joints and muscles. The high-impact nature of running puts a lot of pressure on your legs each time they hit the ground, which can strain or aggravate your veins. For patients with varicose veins, this may worsen symptoms such as discomfort and swelling. Running on softer terrain and wearing light compression stockings can help reduce the impact on your legs.
Weightlifting increases abdominal pressure and strains on your veins, making it more difficult for blood to return to the heart. Proper techniques and lighter weights can make lifting safer, but patients with venous disease should talk to their doctor before doing any weight training. Resistance training may be a good option instead.
Sit-ups and crunches also increase abdominal pressure, subsequently raising the pressure in the veins in your legs. This can lead to vein dilation and valve damage that causes blood to pool in the legs, worsening venous insufficiency and varicose veins.
When Exercise Isn’t an Option
At The Vein Care Center of Florida & South Baldwin, we recognize that regular exercise may not be feasible for some patients. If exercise isn’t an option, there are still a few things you can do to improve your circulation and overall vein health:
- Wear compression stockings to help blood flow in the proper direction
- Calf raises or rocking your heels back and forth can help activate the calf pump muscle to improve circulation
- Elevate your legs to reduce swelling and keep blood from pooling
- Rotate your ankles to help blood flow back to the heart
While exercise can’t cure or prevent venous disease, it can help to alleviate uncomfortable symptoms and improve the health of your veins. It’s important not to over-exert yourself, however, as this can cause strain and pressure that can cause swelling or discomfort. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can treat the symptoms of venous insufficiency, the vein care specialist Dr. James Jimenez at The Vein Center of Florida & South Baldwin offers a variety of effective treatments for Florida patients in Pensacola or Destin, or Alabama patients in Foley. Contact or call The Vein Center of Florida & South Baldwin at 1-800-910-VEIN to set up a consultation or receive a free vein screening today!