Many people incorrectly assume that varicose and spider veins only happen to the elderly or to pregnant women. But in actuality, varicose veins can occur in anybody. There are a variety of factors, many of which have to do with lifestyle, but varicose veins are hereditary as well. The good news is that there are things you can do to help minimize your risk for varicose veins, exercise being an important one. However, it is important to know which exercises are most beneficial, which exercises might actually increase your risk for varicose veins, and how to adjust your activities accordingly.
First, it might be helpful to understand a little about how your body works – your circulatory system and legs, specifically. In general, when you exercise and your heart is pumping blood to the rest of your body, your calf muscles are what pumps the blood back up your legs, through the vena cava in your abdomen and back to your heart. Therefore, activities that strengthen your calf muscles are great for your overall circulatory health. On the other hand, however, certain strenuous activities that strain your abdomen can prevent the blood from flowing through the vena cava. This blood then pools in your legs, and this is what can lead to poor vein health and varicose veins.
Let’s take a look at which exercises help or hinder this process:
Walking – walking is not only the easiest exercise to fit into your daily routine, but it is also the best for your vein health. It works the calf muscle well, while still being a low-impact exercise.
Stationary bikes – similarly to walking, stationary bikes are a great workout for stretching and strengthening your calves while not adding stress to your joints. This would also be true for other elliptical machines.
Compression socks – wearing compression socks or graduated compression hose help the flow of blood move back up to the heart. So they are a great idea if you are exercising, but also if you are traveling, are pregnant, or if you’re daily work routine requires an excessive amount of sitting or standing.
Smaller movements – even when it’s not possible to squeeze in a 30-minute walk each day, you can help stimulate the pump that is your calf muscle by rocking your feet back and forth, heel to toe, when standing or sitting for a prolonged time.
Running – running is obviously a great way to stay in shape, and it also strengthens the calf muscle. But running repeatedly on hard surfaces like concrete or pavement can really damage your joints. If you are a frequent runner, it’s important to seek out a softer running surface like grass, sand, or a synthetic track.
Weightlifting – strenuous weightlifting can severely harm your veins. When doing heavy lifting, you really strain your abdomen, which as I mentioned above, will restrict the blood flow moving back to the heart, thus causing that blood to pool in the legs. If you are a weightlifter, consider lower weights at higher reps, remember to exhale when you lift, and end each workout with an activity like walking to reactivate proper circulation.
Other exercises – you don’t have to cut these activities out completely, but be aware that other abdomen-straining exercises like sit-ups, crunches, and even some prolonged yoga positions that strain the abdomen should be done in short sessions, and again followed by walking.
Exercise is obviously an important part in maintaining your overall health, but it’s also important to be informed about how each exercise is affecting your body.