Food Doctors Explain How to Improve Your Circulation for Healthier Blood Flow
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You might not think about it as much as you do eating healthy, exercising, and, but maintaining good circulation is one of the most important building blocks to keeping your health on the rails.
“The circulatory system of the body delivers vital oxygen and nutrients to all of our muscles and organs,” says Vincent Varghese, D.O., a cardiac interventionist atin New Jersey.“When plaque or arterial blockages develop, normal blood flow is hindered and can lead to devastating effects, such as , stroke, or even leg amputation [in severe cases].”
The process of plaque build-up is a slow one and usually takes decades, he adds, yet studies have shown the precursors of plaque developing as early as our twenties. A, unhealthy eating, , diabetes, smoking, and a family history of early heart or vascular disease can all contribute to poor circulation.
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“The most common symptom of impaired circulation to the legs is,” says , a board-certified vascular surgeon and associate professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.“It’s a condition where you may experience pain in the buttocks or calves when walking that goes away with rest.”
, , and foot wounds that take a while to heal, especially if you have a family history, are all signs you should check in with a vascular specialist.
1. Go on regular walks.
both the arteries and veins.“Contraction of the calf muscles causes venous blood to be pushed back up to the heart,” says , a board-certified vascular surgeon and associate professor of vascular surgery in Sacramento, CA.“The arteries dilate when patients walk and improve blood flow all throughout the body.” Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of walking three times per week.
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But if walking’s not your thing, any type of sweat session can improve circulation.“When you exercise, your muscles need greater blood flow, which supplies oxygen and other nutrients,” says, a board-certified interventional cardiologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix.
Shoot for 20 minutes of heart-pumping cardio (think:, elliptical, ) four to five times per week. (Note: If it’s been a while since your last workout, you may want to consider checking in with your doc before starting a new routine).
2. Take more work breaks.
The perks of taking more work breaks is two-fold: It helps you get into the habit of alternating between sitting, standing, and walking, so there’s less demand on the(blood flow slows down while you’re sitting and can cause blood to pool in your legs, resulting in muscle pain and fatigue); and it can keep your from getting out of whack.
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“By keeping stress levels down, you’re less likely to binge eat or smoke,” says Dr. Humphries.“Both of these habits can lead to atherosclerosis (plaque buildup) in the arteries that results in a narrowing of the vessels.” Do your best toevery 15 to 20 minutes, and get-up-and-go breaks from sitting every hour—even if it’s just a power walk around your home.
3. Eat more fruits and veggies.
Besides reducing your sugar and fatty food intake to steer clear of high blood pressure, plaque formation, and, adding more fruits and veggies to your repertoire leads to more nitrates and other compounds in your diet, says Dr. Patel, which your body then uses to —a chemical compound we exhale that by relaxing blood vessels.
Foods that are high in nitric oxide converters include leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, swiss chard, bok choy, arugula), beets, cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, citrus fruits, watermelon, and pomegranates. The more colorful your plate looks, the better off you will be.
4. Stay hydrated.
“Your blood is about half water, sowill help keep it moving,” says Dr. Patel. When you’re , not only does the amount of through your body decrease, but your blood retains more sodium, causing it to thicken and making it that much harder for your circulatory system to do its thing.
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The easiest way to make sure you’re getting enough fluids is to: Straw-colored or clear means you’re hydrated—anything darker than that means you need to up your H20 intake.
5. Quit smoking.
Smoking causes a build-up of plaque in your arteries that can ultimately lead to peripheral artery disease (PAD).“Symptoms of PAD can range from leg pain with walking (claudication) to pain at rest to gangrene (tissue death caused by a lack of blood flow),” says Dr. Hicks.
Quitting smoking slows the process of plaque formation and vessel damage. Theis different for everyone, but there is medication available through your doctor if you find yourself struggling.
6. Manage your blood pressure.
High blood pressureby making your heart and blood vessels worker harder and less efficiently. This creates itty bitty tears in the artery walls, which is what gives plaque (from bad cholesterol) the chance to make itself at home.“A cholesterol blockage can occur in any type of artery, including heart and peripheral arteries,” says Dr. Patel.
Exercising, cutting back on sodium, andare some of the lifestyle factors that can help and improve your circulation in the process. Aim for a blood pressure less than 120/80mmHg.
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7. Control your blood sugar.
Elevated glucose levels can cause damage to the lining of your small blood vessels and this can mess with your circulation. Diabetes also promotes the formation of plaque in the body, increasing your risk of PAD. The fatty deposits(especially in your legs and feet).
“Aim for aif you have diabetes,” says Dr. Varghese. Your diet plays a big role here, and loading up on naturally, such as leafy greens, whole grains, lean proteins, and legumes, can make a big difference.
8. Wear compression socks.
“Wearing compression socks adds a layer of support to your veins,” says Dr. Humphries.“It helps to prevent the superficial veins that aren’t wrapped in muscle from dilating.” As veins dilate from standing or sitting over long periods of time, they can become(twisted, enlarged veins) that cause pain and swelling.
Wear compression socks from morning to evening to steadily squeeze your legs so your veins can move blood more efficiently. They’re available through pharmacies and medical supply stores and—prescription-strength are also available if your varicose veins are causing symptoms.
9. Elevate your legs.
Elevating your legs (at or above heart level) improves blood flow to the rest of your body by keeping the blood from pooling in your lower legs.“When you elevate your legs it helps take the pressure off your veins, since they don’t have to work against gravity to get blood back to the heart,” says Dr. Patel.
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The most convenient time towould be when you’re watching TV or having a nap—lie down and prop your legs above heart level (a can help you comfortably hold the position) for 15 minutes or more at a time.
10. Drink green tea.
Green tea contains, which are compounds that help to improve blood vessel function.“Catechins have been shown to inhibit oxidation (an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body), decrease blood vessel inflammation, as well as arterial plaque buildup,” says Dr. Patel. It’s thought green tea relaxes blood vessels so the body can pump blood more easily, but more research is needed to understand its full impact.
11. Take it easy on the booze.
“Alcohol consumption at levels above one to two drinks per day is associated with high blood pressure,” says Dr. Patel. When you sip those cocktails, your body has to work harder to pump blood and puts additional stress on your veins.
Spread out your alcohol intake as much as possible—and when you do indulge, stay within the, which is two drinks or less for men and one drink or less for women.
12. Finally, have a family meeting.
“If there’s a family history of early heart or vascular disease, before the age of 55 in men and 65 in women, you should see a specialist at least 10 years before you reach that age,” says Dr. Varghese.“Even without classic risk factors, your genetics and family history play a key role in plaque development.”
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