Your veins work hard your entire life, especially the vessels in the lower legs that move blood back to your heart against gravity and your body’s weight. That’s why is important to give them the break they deserve with healthy lifestyle habits that increase blood circulation and take some of the pressure off.
We spoke to Dr Pushpinder Sivia, board-certified in vascular surgery, who treats disorders of circulation as well as venous disease. These seven steps will give your veins the best environment to maintain optimal condition over the long haul.
Varicose Veins 101
As you age your risk for varicose and spider veins increases. In general, around 30% of women and 15% of men are affected, but by the age of 70, this percentage increases to 77% in women and 57% in men.
To help you understand the impact a healthy lifestyle may have on your veins, it’s also important to realise how our vascular system works. Your veins are responsible for carrying blood from every area of your body back to your heart. To help move the blood in a single direction, they have tiny valves inside that push blood forward.
The veins in your lower legs have an especially challenging task of moving blood from your feet to your heart, working against gravity and the weight of your body to do their job. Over time, poor blood circulation can cause the valves in these veins to weaken, which may lead to blood pooling back in the vessels and causing varicose veins to form.
Fortunately, lifestyle tweaks can make the difference between healthy, functioning vessels and the appearance of spider and varicose veins.
1. Step it Up
Do you feel invigorated after a brisk walk or workout? Guess what? So do your veins. Activities like walking get the blood pumping, which helps it move through the veins more efficiently. Walking also works your lower leg muscles, causing them to contract as you move. When your muscles contract, they support the blood flow upward through the veins to give your vessels a break.
The good news is you don’t have to commit to vigorous daily workouts to reap the benefits. Even a simple walk or bike ride around your neighbourhood can get results. If you work at a desk all day, make sure you take breaks throughout your shift to get up, stretch, and even take a brief walk, if possible, to improve blood circulation.
2. Keep it Down
Your weight, that is. Packing on the pounds does a disservice to your veins as it creates even more pressure on the lower vessels, resulting in poor blood circulation. Maintaining a healthy number on the scale also helps you keep a healthy cardiovascular and circulatory system.
Keeping the weight down may be easier than you think: exercise often (for at least 30 minutes per day) and track your food intake. These habits will also make the scale as happy as your veins. However, if you are overweight and having trouble getting the pounds off, talk to your doctor about your weight loss options.
3. Eat Your Veggies
Antioxidant-laden fruits and vegetables protect your veins from free radical damage, keeping their walls strong and elastic and improving blood flow. They contain bioflavonoids, which are powerful phytochemicals that support your vein health and reduce inflammation.
Fibre is another essential nutrient your body and veins need daily to optimize your health. Fibre works wonders on your digestive system, keeping things running smoothly and reducing constipation (which can lead to additional pressure on your veins). Look for natural sources of fibre, such as oats, flaxseed, berries, carrots, and apples.
4. Drink Up
Water helps your entire body function better, from keeping your hair healthy to preventing kidney stones and it’s also essential for vein health, since dehydration can thicken the blood and can place additional pressure on the veins. Additionally, it delivers oxygen into our system and the more oxygenated your blood is, the smoother it will flow.
And guess what? Water helps energize muscles, too. If you’ve ever experienced muscle cramping as a result of dehydration, you know exactly what we mean. When your muscles function at their best, they offer more support to your veins to alleviate pressure, improve blood flow, and reduce your risk for varicose veins.
Compression stockings offer graduated pressure that is tighter in the foot and loosens as the socks move up the lower leg. They are designed to help veins move blood upward, giving them the support they need to remain healthy and strong and come in a variety of strengths, so talk to your doctor about the best compression grade for your needs.
They can be particularly helpful if you remain in the same position all day, whether standing or sitting behind a desk. Consider compression socks for long days of travel as well since extended aeroplane trips or long car journeys can lead to poor blood flow and raise your risk for both varicose veins and blood clots in the lower leg vessels.
Give your veins a chance to relax and decompress in the evening after a long day of hard work. Elevating them and indulging in a warm bath or shower can help relax tense muscles and enhance circulation.
By doing so, you’ll be able to take deeper breaths, increasing your oxygen intake and improving blood circulation. This will ultimately relieve strain on your veins. Remember, it’s best to avoid crossing your legs throughout the day and evening to minimize pressure on them.
7. Treat Visible Veins
If despite your best efforts, you still may see varicose veins form, you should consider treating them with quick-and-easy outpatient procedures.
The good news is treatments have come a long way since the painful, surgical vein stripping that was once recommended for varicose veins. Today, many minimally invasive treatments are available, including:
- Sclerotherapy – This injectable treatment delivers a liquid sclerosing agent into the diseased vein, causing it to seal closed and collapse. The body absorbs the treated vein over time and disappears from view, while blood naturally reroutes to healthy veins nearby.
- Varithena™ – This is another injectable treatment that works similarly to sclerotherapy but uses a foaming agent that can treat larger varicose veins.
- ClosureFast™ – This procedure uses controlled radiofrequency energy to seal veins closed. The vein collapses and gets reabsorbed by the body, similar to injectable treatments.
- VenaSeal™ – This innovative treatment uses a medical-grade adhesive to seal affected veins closed.
Lifestyle habits can go far in keeping your veins healthy and strong. When varicose veins develop, it’s also good to know there are minimally invasive ways to treat swollen vessels to improve your appearance and symptoms without general anaesthesia or downtime.