It’s no surprise that physical activity is essential for leg health. But what if you find the usual forms of exercise, well, uninspiring? You don’t have to become a workout fanatic or gym rat to benefit from the fun, simple substitutions for walking, running, weightlifting, or other conventional forms of exercise.
The physiology of exercise and leg vein health is quite elegant: The tightening of the muscles during movement followed by muscle relaxation encourages proper blood flow. When muscles contract, blood is squeezed upward to the heart through deep veins. The deep veins carry 90 percent or more of the blood from the legs toward the heart.1
How are vein health and leg health connected, anyway?
are the thin-walled tubes of muscle that work against gravity to push blood back to the heart. Veins should not be confused with arteries, which carry oxygenated blood away from the heart to distribute throughout the rest of the body.
To help veins do their gravity-defying work, tiny one-way valves inside the veins act as a traffic cop. These valves keep blood “traffic” moving in the right direction. Within these valves are flaps that open during muscle contracture to allow blood flow toward the heart. The flap closes at rest to prevent blood from flowing backward.
However, when these valves become weak or damaged due to vein disease, fluid gets trapped and pools in the lower legs or ankles, causing them to swell. Varicose veins can appear. Skin can become discolored or change texture. If the disease progresses without proper treatment, non-healing wounds or leg ulcers can form.
Exercise helps keep legs (and you!) healthy
While exercise can't "cure" vein disease, it can help relieve irritating symptoms like swelling and varicose veins. Strong muscles work as an efficient pump, improving blood flow. Increased blood flow invigorates and oxygenates the entire body, including the brain, which boosts mental capacity. Improved circulation eases tired, heavy legs, cold fingers, toes, and even skin tone!
Exercise for vein health need not be strenuous, time-consuming, nor require special equipment. It does require commitment and the understanding that, despite all best efforts, damaged or diseased veins require the intervention of a qualified vein doctor to eliminate uncomfortable symptoms.
Our four favorite healthy leg activities. No gym required
A study by the Royal College of Physicians2 found that exercise in “the garden, green spaces, parks, and the countryside” enhanced physical and mental health and improved strength, balance, and dexterity. The study recommends that that "patients be referred to local community and therapeutic gardening projects, where occupational therapists trained in horticulture help them to manage and treat their medical issues.”
In addition to the physical benefits of raking, mowing, and planting for toning muscles and encouraging healthy blood circulation, tending to plants allows the gardener to be a nurturer. Being responsible for other living things takes the focus off ourselves and serves as a reminder that beautiful outcomes often require hard work and patience.
The history of yoga goes back some 5,000 years to northern India, although some researchers believe that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old. The meditative postures were developed to cleanse the body and mind and break the knots that bind us to our physical existence.3 While yoga cannot cure varicose veins, holding the poses strengthens muscles, which improves circulation and can relieve the swelling and pain of varicose veins.
One of the most recognizable yoga poses, downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), is an inversion posture, meaning the head is below the heart during the pose. This reversal of gravity encourages the circulation of fresh blood to be pumped through the body. Extending the cervical spine and neck releases stress and provides a full body stretch, relieving painful varicose vein symptoms—at least temporarily.
The legs-up-the-wall pose (Viparita Karani) can relieve swollen, achy legs by using gravity to redirect blood flow. Unlike other inversion poses, these benefits can be achieved without straining the neck or head. By putting blood back into circulation, lower leg swelling, and the associated discomfort are reduced.
Go to this page for more information on specific yoga poses for vein health.
Not interested in the bending, twisting, downward-facing dogging of traditional yoga?
Why not try chair yoga?
Chair yoga is a gentler form of yoga that can be done almost anywhere and allows those with varying degrees of mobility to participate. Using a chair for seated and balancing poses provides many health benefits as traditional yoga, such as improved circulation, increased strength and flexibility, and reduced stress.
As with any new exercise, speak to your doctor before doing any form of yoga. Yoga may not be recommended for those diagnosed with glaucoma, excessive fluid retention conditions (such as congestive heart failure and kidney or liver failure), or uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Has “Dancing with the Stars” got you inspired?! One doesn't need Derek Hough's moves to improve swollen, achy, restless leg symptoms! By strengthening and defining calf muscles, the legs’ natural pump action is increased, thus boosting circulation and improving overall vein health. Dance is also a great cardio workout, which goes a long way to help keep weight under control. Obesity and sitting for long periods are known risk factors for varicose veins.
While dance won’t eliminate varicose veins, uncomfortable vein disease symptoms can be managed by leg exercise.
Don't know how to dance, you say?
Take lessons! It’s a fun, social, low-impact activity that gets legs in shape and oxygenated blood flowing throughout the body.
Cycling is an excellent low-impact exercise for promoting vein health. By preventing many risk factors associated with chronic venous insufficiency (the medical term for vein disease) cycling is great for:
- Supporting healthy weight management.
Obesity puts one at high risk of vein disease.
- Improving leg strength. Weak or dysfunctional vein valves in the legs cause blood to pool, leading to complications such as swelling, varicose veins, leg cramps, and leg ulcers left untreated. Pedaling a bicycle generates muscle contraction, which helps push blood through the veins back to the heart.
- Promotes physical activity. Sitting or standing for long periods is one of the leading causes of blood pooling and vein disease.
And no, electric bikes don’t count.
Tips for making the most out of bicycling:
- Wear compression stockings. The gentle hug provided by these elastic garments boosts circulation further by encouraging blood flow upward against gravity from the lower limbs through the deep veins in the legs and back toward the heart.
- Enjoy the great outdoors. While the benefits of an exercise bike are great, there’s no substitute for the mental health advantages of taking in the sights and soaking in the Vitamin D found only outside the four walls.
Varicose Vein Treatment
Remember, exercise alone won’t eliminate varicose veins and other symptoms of vein disease. Center for Vein Restoration (CVR) is the nation’s leading provider of state-of-the-art vein care. CVR vein doctors are board-certified experts who provide minimally invasive varicose vein treatment in a comfortable office environment.
Call 240-965-3915 or visit centerforvein.com for more information or to schedule an appointment. Major insurances, including Medicaid and Medicare, are accepted.
- Merck Manual, Overview of the Venous System, James D. Douketis, MD, McMaster University. February 2021.
- US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Gardening for health: a regular dose of gardening, June 2018
- Yoga Basics, the History of Yoga