Why Is Circulation Important?
Every day, your heart pumps about 10 pints of blood 60,000 miles around your body through your circulatory system. That system is made up of blood vessels, the tubes that carry blood throughout your body. Blood delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues, removes carbon dioxide and waste from them, and keeps your body functioning.
How to Tell If You Have Poor Circulation in Your Legs
If problems in your circulatory system interfere with blood flow in your legs, you may notice symptoms such as:
- Numbness or tingling in your feet
- Muscle cramps
- Cold feet
- Trouble getting or keeping an erection
- Memory and concentration problems
- Slow-healing wounds
- Varicose veins
- Swelling, called edema
These symptoms could be a sign of health conditions that affect circulation, like:
- A blood clot
- High blood pressure
- Atherosclerosis, a buildup of fats and other substances (called plaque) in your arteries
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD), in which this buildup narrows arteries to your legs
Talk to your doctor if you notice signs of poor circulation in your legs or elsewhere in your body.
How Can You Improve Your Leg Circulation?
You can take steps to improve circulation in your legs, such as:
Quit smoking. The nicotine in cigarettes, vapes, and smokeless tobacco can harm blood vessels and raise your risk for PAD. PAD causes symptoms like numbness, weakness, cramping, coldness, and pain, usually in your legs. And it raises your risk for heart attacks and strokes.
Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure puts extra strain on your artery walls. This makes atherosclerosis and PAD more likely. For most people, a healthy blood pressure is less than 120/80. Get your blood pressure checked regularly, and get treatment if it's high.
Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water keeps your blood volume at a good level. That helps you maintain proper circulation. Aim for eight glasses a day. Avoid too much caffeine or alcohol, which can dehydrate you.
Exercise. Physical activity is one of the best ways to improve your circulation. Any sort of movement boosts blood flow. Exercise can raise your heart rate, which makes blood move faster through your body. But even stretching can help. Your muscles and tendons extend when you stretch, which helps blood flow freely through your vessels. Ask your doctor which exercises may be best for you.
Try yoga. In addition to the benefits of stretching, the relaxation yoga can bring may improve blood flow. Twisting movements send oxygenated blood to your organs. Poses where your head is lower than your heart can help blood flow from your lower body to your heart and brain. Yoga also boosts your red blood cells’ hemoglobin levels. Hemoglobin is a protein that helps your blood carry oxygen through your body.
Stand up. Sitting a lot during the day decreases circulation to your lower body and may also increase your risks for conditions like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Jump-start your circulation by using a standing desk or taking frequent short breaks to walk around.
Try compression socks. These socks gently squeeze your legs so blood doesn't linger in that area too long. They help the blood move back up to your heart. Ask your doctor what kind of compression socks might be best for you.
Watch your diet. Good nutrition helps prevent conditions that affect your circulation, like atherosclerosis, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Experts suggest that you:
- Cut down on saturated fat and salt
- Eat foods containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
- Get plenty of antioxidants (such as vitamins C and E) and fiber
- Include fish in your diet
Brush your body. Brushing your skin, or “dry brushing,” has health benefits, including improved circulation. With this massage technique, you use a dry, stiff brush daily to gently scrape your skin. It helps exfoliate your skin while it improves blood circulation and lymph drainage. Lymph is excess fluid from your tissues and cells.
Use warmth. A warm bath can temporarily boost blood flow by widening your blood vessels. A hot drink like tea has a similar effect. As a bonus, black and green tea contain antioxidants that are good for your cardiovascular health.