Varicose veins are painful, dilated, twisted veins that appear as bulges underneath the skin. They form as the result of chronically dilated and inflamed small veins that have slowly stretched under years of pressure. Unhealthy veins and poorly functioning valves allow blood to accumulate and pool in your lower legs, and the pressure of that pooling blood causes the veins to bloat, twist, and turn into these varicose veins—also known as spider veins.
Spider veins are a common condition that is more frequently found in women—up to 15 percent of men and up to 25 percent of women in the United States have varicose veins. And while for many it’s just a cosmetic concern, varicose veins can cause pain and discomfort. They are typically inherited genetically but there are also other contributing factors that can cause the condition, including pregnancy and obesity. It can also be an issue for people who are on their feet for prolonged periods of time.
While varicose veins are inevitable if you inherit them genetically (Thanks, Mom and Dad!), luckily, there are a few ways you can help manage and minimize the appearance and discomfort that comes along with them:
1. Exercise regularly.
Regular exercise is always going to be an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but it’s especially helpful for maintaining healthier veins and promoting good blood circulation. A few specific exercises that are especially great for preventing and managing varicose veins are leg lifts, standing calf raises, bicycle legs, and side lunges. Walking is another great exercise that you can do no matter what your fitness level. Walking keeps your blood flowing and pumps the muscles in your calves and lower legs to open and close the valves within the veins.
2. Don't sit still.
So many people have a job that requires them to sit long hours at a desk or stand all day long. This is not good for our blood circulation, and as a result it’s important to take breaks every 30 minutes and walk around to get your circulation moving. If you’re sitting at a desk, try flexing your calf muscles frequently, this stimulates the opening and closing of the valves. When you contract your muscles, the pressure of the tightening muscle squeezes against the veins to push blood upward toward your heart, and the valves open to allow blood to move from one segment of vein to the next. Relaxing your muscles causes the valves to close again to prevent blood from flowing backward, a condition known as reflux.
3. Elevate your legs.
Elevating your legs is a really helpful way to help any blood that pools in your legs to return to your circulatory system. Try elevating your legs on an exercise ball for a few minutes, two to three times per day or at least for 10 to 15 minutes at the end of your day.
4. Maintain a healthy diet.
Obesity is a major contributing factor in varicose veins; the increased intra-abdominal pressure makes it harder for blood to get back up from the legs and increases the pressure in the leg veins. It’s important to watch your weight and try to stick to the ideal weight recommended by your doctor. Losing weight by eating a healthy diet can help manage and minimize varicose veins. This will improve blood flow and ease the pressure on your veins.
5. Check your wardrobe.
Try to avoid wearing tight, fitted clothing especially around the waist, groin, and leg area, as it can make varicose veins worse. It's helpful to avoid wearing high heels for long periods of time, as they are not good for circulation. Calf muscles contract less when you wear high-heeled shoes compared to flats, hence, less blood is pushed out of the leg when the calf muscles do not contract. Your doctor may also recommend that you wear compression stockings, which creates a gentle pressure up the leg and keeps the blood from pooling in the veins. Remember, varicose veins have a lot to do with your DNA, but by keeping up with these five healthy lifestyle factors, you can greatly reduce the severity and pain.
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