On Your Health

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How to Boost Circulation and Why it’s Important

Your blood circulation affects literally every cell in your body. Think of your blood vessels as a highway system. Blood travels through them, delivering oxygen and nutrients to all of your body’s organs and systems. Arteries carry blood away from the heart and out to the body. Veins carry blood back to the heart.

There are two blood circulatory systems in the human body, and they are connected. Pulmonary circulation is all about infusing the blood with fresh oxygen and ridding it of carbon dioxide. Systemic circulation is dedicated to the organs, tissues and cells, providing them with vital nutrients and oxygen. Circulation is a continuous cycle of bringing oxygen and other necessities to your cells and taking away waste from your cells.

Both systems start in the heart. In between heartbeats, when the muscles of the heart relax, blood moves from both atria, AKA the upper heart chambers, into the lower chambers (called ventricles), which expand and pump blood into the large arteries. Coronary arteries are about the size of a drinking straw, and they get smaller as they reach out into the body and its extremities. 

Roadblocks in your blood vessels make it tough for blood to pass through, particularly when that blood is traveling relatively far, making its way to the parts of your body that are the greatest distance from your heart ― your hands, fingers, feet and toes. The most significant problem we will experience cause by poor circulation is that the cells of the body aren’t getting as much oxygen as they need to operate normally. When cells don’t have the oxygen they need, they can’t function well. 


Common signs of poor circulation include:

Skin color changes. Pale, blue or slightly ashen skin can be an indicator that your blood flow isn’t where it should be.

Temperature changes. Are your hands and feet always cold? Could be a sign of poor circulation. Healthy blood flow brings warm blood to your extremities, which allows them to feel warm.

Numbness, swelling or tingling. If your extremities (hands, fingers, arms, legs, feet and toes) feel tingly, heavy, numb or swollen, blood flow may be diminished to these areas. Poor circulation to your extremities can be dangerous, even leading to gangrene (death of tissue), which can require amputation.
Muscle cramping or slow-healing wounds. If your legs cramp when you walk, or if you experience wounds that heal slowly on your hands and feet, you may have poor circulation.

It’s important to check with your doctor if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. That way, he or she can treat the underlying disease or condition behind the symptoms.


The most common circulatory-system diseases are:

Varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency. These are diseases that damage the valves in your veins, potentially preventing blood from flowing properly. Two of the most common venous diseases are varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency. Varicose veins are easy to spot. They look like dark, puffy or swollen veins, very visible just beneath the skin. Varicose veins are most likely to occur in the legs and are caused by damage to the veins’ valves. Treatment options include an hourlong (or so) treatment called ambulatory phlebectomy, an outpatient procedure in which a surgeon removes superficial veins that have twisted and become varicose.

Chronic venous insufficiency is when the veins in the legs have difficulty returning blood back to the heart. This happens when the walls of the veins don’t work well. It’s treatable, though, and one way to chronic venous insufficiency is with a procedure in which a doctor uses a very fine needle to inject a solution which will eliminate the improperly working vein.

Peripheral artery disease. This disease is the result of a progression: unhealthy cholesterol levels can lead to atherosclerosis, AKA a build-up of fats, cholesterol and other substances, collectively called plaque, in and on the walls of your arteries. Atherosclerosis can then lead to peripheral artery disease. Eventually, built-up plaque in blood vessels and arteries can result in blood clots. Blood clots can form in any blood vessel in your body, and if they break free and migrate, they can end up in your brain, lungs, heart and other areas causing a stroke, heart attack or other problems. 


Tactics to help improve circulation:

Improving your circulation can be a pretty straightforward process. Many of the tactics we use to maintain general good health are the same tactics that can help improve circulation, and include:

Exercise. Regular exercise is a great way to improve your overall health, and aerobic exercise is fantastic for cardiovascular health. Good cardiovascular health means better circulation. Cardio is not limited to running. Plenty of lower-impact exercises fall into the cardio category like swimming, biking or walking. Yoga is a low impact way to boost circulation because it oxygenates blood cells and moves the blood through the body. Lifting weights and other strength training moves are also circulation boosters.

Keep an eye on your blood pressure. Another name for high blood pressure is hypertension. High blood pressure/hypertension is known to cause arteriosclerosis, which is when your artery walls thicken and harden, typically occurring as we age, and not to be confused with atherosclerosis, which we discussed earlier in the post.  

Say no to tobacco.  We can think of 7,000 reasons to quit smoking. That’s one for every chemical found in a burning cigarette. Actually, all tobacco products, even smokeless tobacco, can thicken your blood and damage the walls of your arteries. Thicker blood flows slower and damaged arterial walls won’t help matters. If you need help quitting, Quitting smoking is hard, but millions have done it successfully. Getting support from your INTEGRIS Health physicians and smoking cessation programs increase your chances of kicking the butt forever. 

Hydrate. While it may be true that blood is thicker than water, blood is also made up of lots of water. In fact, it’s about 50 percent water. Plenty of water will help keep it flowing. Women need around 92 ounces per day and men should drink about 124 ounces. If it’s hot outside or you’ve been exercising and sweating (good for you!), you’ll want to drink a bit more.

Move around. Sitting too much can reduce the blood flow to your legs. If your job means you sit at a desk, or you’re often driving or flying long distances, make a point to remember to get up and move around. Alternate sitting and standing, walk around, or investigate getting a standing desk for work. Five minute walks throughout the day are a great idea.

Compression garments. These garments are available at pharmacies with no prescription. They work by preventing the blood from pooling by compressing the muscles. Studies have also shown that compression can also increase the oxygen in the muscles. 

Watch your weight. Obesity and poor circulation are linked. When a person is carrying extra weight, it’s more work for the heart and circulatory system to pump blood throughout the body. Maintaining a healthy weight is beneficial in general, and will specifically help your circulation.


If you have questions about your health, talk to your primary care provider. For more health and wellness content, visit the INTEGRIS Health For You blog.


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