Are you worried about varicose veins – those bulging, bluish-purple veins that most commonly appear on the legs? Unfortunately, we have bad news for you: it’s very likely they’ll become more and more prevalent as life expectancies increase and more of us choose a sedentary career spent behind a computer screen. It’s already estimated that nearly 50% of Americans will develop varicose veins during their lifetime, and besides being aesthetically unappealing, they can make even simple everyday things like standing or walking uncomfortable.
There are many things that can lead to varicose veins. For example, pregnancy, obesity, inactivity, or having a family history of them. Even just being a woman increases your risk! But is there anything that can be done to prevent them?
While there’s no sure-fire way to guarantee you’ll stay varicose vein-free, and some risk factors such as genetics are simply beyond your control, there are many effective ways to both soothe the symptoms of varicose veins, and reduce your chances of ever developing them at all.
Don’t want varicose veins? Keep moving!
This may surprise you, but something as basic as standing for a long period of time can contribute to getting varicose veins. That’s because they’re caused by blood pooling in your veins – which overfills and over-stretches it, leading to that unmistakable bulge – and it’s easier for that to happen when you’re upright. Simply put, gravity makes it harder for your body to pump blood upwards.
So, if you’re in an occupation that requires you to be on your feet a lot but not really moving – such as hairdressers or checkout workers – you’re at an increased risk for varicose veins.
Similarly, people that sit still for long periods of time are in the same boat. When you’re walking, your calf muscles are continually contracting and relaxing with each step, which compresses nearby veins to squeeze blood up towards your heart (healthy veins have one-way valves that prevent blood from moving down, hence why it moves upwards). When your legs aren’t moving, this isn’t happening, and so you’re more likely to have issues with blood pooling in your lower body.
So whether you are standing upright or stuck behind a desk for many hours, it’s important to keep those calf muscles pumping! We’re not talking about a full-on gym routine – some simple exercises are all it takes to promote good circulation:
- ‘Swing’ your lower legs
- Move your feet up and down
- Use an under-desk stepper
Varicose veins are most likely to occur in the legs, but there are veins throughout your body. So to keep the blood from stagnating in other areas, here are a few more easy but effective movements to repeat regularly:
- Squeeze your buttocks and ab muscles
- Stretch your arms
- Take deep breaths
- Open and close your hands
Walk your way to being varicose vein-free
While the simple exercises above can make a big difference to your circulation and help ward off those pesky varicose veins while you’re otherwise inactive, getting in some ‘proper’ exercise is even better. After all, isn’t it always?!
Walking – or running – is one of the most effective ways to stimulate those calf muscles and keep your blood flowing. They even call the specific one responsible for this lower leg circulation boost, the soleus muscle, a ‘peripheral heart’ because of how it well it pumps your blood back up through your veins!
Walking, of course, provides many additional benefits besides enhancing your circulation. It strengthens your bones (helping to combat another serious health problem, osteoporosis), lowers your risk of heart disease, relieves stress, and is a great way to get in shape. Plus, it’s totally free, can be done practically anywhere, doesn’t require you to buy any specialized equipment, and has a low risk of injury, so it’s a really easy way to start out exercising no matter your age, location, or budget.
Naturally, walking is also a great way to lose weight which, if you’re currently overweight, will reduce your chance of developing varicose veins even further. And because it creates a sense of well-being without being overly tiring, it’s an easy exercise routine to stick to. Perhaps consider buying a pedometer to motivate you to increase your daily step count. Even something as simple as choosing the stairs over the elevator or parking further away from the door to your favorite store will get some extra steps in!
Small diet changes to ward off varicose veins
There are many dietary changes that can help to keep your veins healthy, such as choosing foods that are high in fiber, potassium, and flavonoids while avoiding foods that are high in sodium. Here’s how they make a difference:
Vein health and fiber
Probably, bowel movements are not the first thing that comes to mind when you’re pondering ways to prevent varicose veins! However, constipation-induced straining may aggravate damaged valves in your veins, because it increases your blood pressure. Eating fiber-rich foods such as wholegrains, pears, pulses, and almonds can keep this health issue at bay.
Sodium, water retention, and vein pressure
Foods that are high in sodium – a key component of salt – cause increased water retention, which also increases the pressure inside your veins and makes it more likely that a valve will fail and a varicose vein will form. So cutting down on these foods is a sensible step.
On the flip side, foods such as bananas, spinach, broccoli and orange juice are rich in potassium which reduces water retention, making them powerful allies in combatting varicose veins!
Flavonoids are a type of plant chemical which enhance your circulation, and healthy circulation means a lower chance of pooling blood. So tuck into foods high in flavonoids such as onions, kale, grapes (and – you’ll love this one – red wine!), peaches, and tomatoes.
Healthy weight, healthy veins
A higher body weight places additional strain on your legs, and is also linked to atherosclerosis, where plaque builds up inside your arteries. Both of these things lead to increased pressure inside your veins. They have to work harder to transport blood back to your heart, and the valves and vein walls are more likely to give out. So maintaining a healthy body weight greatly reduces your chances of developing spider veins (a milder form of varicose veins) and more serious vein bulges.
Graduated compression hosiery: a circulation boost
This option is simple yet highly effective! Wearing graduated compression hosiery can help to prevent the formation of varicose veins, by continuing the job of pushing blood upwards when your calf muscles are resting. They apply gentle pressure that reduces the higher up the leg you go, effectively squeezing the blood higher. This makes it much easier for your veins to function properly and limits both blood pooling and swelling.
Not only that, but as an extra bonus you’ll probably find that your graduated compression socks or pantyhose relieve other uncomfortable symptoms such as fatigued and ‘heavy’ feeling legs. That’s because muscles low on oxygen are more likely to ache or develop cramps, but the healthy circulation rate you’ll be enjoying ensures your leg muscles stay fully oxygenated throughout your day.
Thinking you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing compression hosiery? You don’t have to be! Therapeutic hosiery has come a long way in terms of fashion, and no longer resembles your Grandma’s stockings. You can easily find graduated compression hosiery that looks like regular pantyhose or business socks, or even something stylish and patterned. So absolutely no one will know that you’re wearing ‘medical’ hosiery unless you tell them.
Make gravity work for you – put your legs up!
Your body developed its system of calf-pump muscles and one-way venous valves specifically to fight gravity, so that blood could get back up to your heart. Your arteries, which carry blood down the leg, don’t have valves because they don’t need them – the blood easily flows to your feet.
So, it’s simple physics that you can make its return journey easier by elevating your legs. When you sit or even sleep, raising your legs so that they rest above the level of your heart means gravity will actually encourage the blood to flow ‘upwards’ in your body.
During those long days in the office, do your best to keep your legs elevated whenever possible. And when you get home, you’ve got the perfect excuse to switch on the TV and chill for a bit in your favorite reclining armchair! (Don’t own a recliner? Invest in a footstool or prop your feet up with some pillows instead).
If you’re looking for a new hobby to enhance your circulation, then besides walking, yoga is a healthy habit to check out. Many yoga poses have the added benefit of bringing your feet higher than your heart, with options for all ability levels. Plus, yoga helps to tone and stretch the muscles in your hamstrings and calves which make it even easier for your legs to return blood to your heart.