The beginning of the year often bombards us with messages of fitness, piggybacking onto all those New Year’s goals. I often stress the importance of exercise in the prevention of spider veins and varicose veins, and in fact, exercise is the best bet for promoting healthy veins and preventing vein disease. In general, vein disease is most closely associated with careers that involve prolonged sitting or standing, as well as pregnancy and genetic predisposition.
But some athletes and other highly active people are often shocked to learn they have symptomatic vein disease, presenting with tired and achy legs. Even young, healthy athletes can get varicose or spider veins, and there are some exercises that even exacerbate symptoms.
So what exercises, then, should you do if you have symptoms of vein disease? What is safe?
What is important to remember is that the underlying cause of vein disease is venous reflux. Some exercises improve this, slowing the progression of venous reflux—the reversal of flow in your leg veins into varicose veins—while other exercises only enflame the condition.
When you exercise, blood is pumped to your heart from your calf muscles and veins in the arch of the foot. Strong calf muscles promote healthy circulation, minimizing vein disease. However, strenuous exercise puts strain on venous circulation. Blood flowing back up the leg veins to the heart passes through the vena cava in the abdomen. Increasing the abdominal pressure by such activities as heavy lifting or straining impedes blood from traveling back to the heart. That’s when venous blood pools in the leg veins, causing the unsightly—and sometimes harmful—spider and varicose veins.
The Best Exercise: Walking, since it is a low-impact activity that serves to stretch and strengthen your calf pump, improving blood flow. Ideally, make walking a regular activity, for at least 30 minutes each a day (a minimum of five days a week). Other tricks you can use to fit in regular steps are to park in the farthest lot or structure at work, or park at the top of your structure, walking all the way down and back up the ramp instead of taking the stairs or elevator.
Be Wary of: Running. While running and jogging are wonderful aerobic exercises for your calves and feet, these activities may impact your joint health. If possible, run on a synthetic track or grass to minimize impact.
Great Exercises: Stationary Bikes and Elliptical Machines. Both types of exercises provide low-impact, high-circulatory benefits to your calf muscles, improving pump blood flow without stress on joints and bones. Bikes in general strengthen and stretch your muscles while you pedal.
Varicose-Very Bad Exercise #1: Weightlifting. This often puts that abdominal strain on the vena cava, sending blood pooling back in your legs. While weightlifting is often recommended for peri- to post-menopausal women, the focus should be more on resistance training. For a more beneficial routine using weights, follow the basic techniques for proper lifting, such as lower weight and high rep routines, exhaling when lifting, and following up with an aerobic activity such as walking or riding a stationary bike in order to promote circulation. And always wear compression socks during and following weightlifting to assist the blood flow back to the heart.
Surprising Exercise Don’ts for Vein Health:
Yoga. This will shock and disappoint many out there, but the main thing to remember here is to avoid activities that can worsen venous reflux. In yoga, prolonged abdominal posturing should be avoided for alternate positions and a more aerobic routine.
Sit ups and Crunches. Two workouts designed for abdominal strain. If you suffer from spider or varicose veins, avoid these exercises and opt for an aerobic activity that incorporates abdominal strengthening indirectly.
Do if You Can’t:
Sometimes you can’t make a routine workout a part of your week. This can be the result of inclement weather, an injury, illness, or even scheduling conflicts. If you can’t get in 30 minutes of walking, then try these techniques:
• Activate your calf pump. Rock your feet back and forth on the ground from heel to toe, either while sitting or standing.
• Wear compression socks or hose. Do this especially while traveling, sitting or standing for an extended period. During pregnancy, these should be a part of your daily uniform.
• Avoid high heels. You can make exceptions for special occasions, but remember that the position of your foot in the high heel actually weakens the calf muscle and prevents proper circulation.
If working out has given you symptomatic vein disease, and if you’re tired of your spider or varicose veins and are ready for treatment or just want some more information on laser treatment or sclerotherapy, contact us at 760-944-9263 or visit our website at www.sdveininstitute.com.