The Truth About Circulation

Circulatory Systems

Can exercise help varicose veins? Are there quick fixes for cold hands? Learn what’s true — and false — when it comes to circulation.

Q | Can certain exercises cure varicose veins? 

A | Not really, says osteopathic doctor Spencer Nadolsky, DO, of Olney, Md. Varicose veins are largely genetic and exercise only does so much. If your legs ache and feel heavy, which can accompany varicose veins, elevating your legs might help. Try doing legs-up-the-wall, for example. (For directions, go to “The Restorative Workout“.) People who stand or sit for many consecutive hours are more likely to develop varicose veins. Compression socks may also help with discomfort.

Q | Will compression socks aid my circulation and improve my athletic performance?

A | Yes and no, says University of Minnesota exercise physiologist Donald Dengel, PhD. Compression socks and sleeves might improve circulation when you sit for a long time on a plane, for example, and they support the healthy movement of lymph fluid throughout the body. But research is scarce on their performance-enhancing ability. (For more on compression socks, see “Expert Answers: Does compression gear work?“)

Q | Are cold hands and feet due to poor circulation? 

A |  “Yes, it very well could be,” says Brad Dieter, PhD, a research fellow at Providence Medical Research Center. Exercise improves blood flow, both in the moment (do enough burpees and dead bugs and your whole body will heat up, even your fingers and toes) and over the long term, thanks to the creation of collateral blood vessels, which pump more blood and oxygen to your extremities.

Q | Does massage improve circulation? 

A | Yes. Researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago, found that massage improves blood flow and vascular function in both regular exercisers and sedentary individuals. But don’t use this as license to skip your workout and rely solely on massage for blood-flow benefits; exercise has unique circulatory benefits that can’t be replicated.

That said, there is a specific type of massage, called manual lymph drainage, that is thought to improve lymph circulation. While some practitioners believe that manual lymph drainage has little benefit for those who have not undergone lymph-node removal or other chest surgery, others say that it can help the lymph flow in all individuals, aiding the body’s ability to fight infections and detoxify.

This originally appeared in “Pumped Up” in the June 2017 print issue of Experience Life.

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Laine Bergeson is health journalist and functional-nutrition educator and coach.

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