Your blood circulatory system plays a vital role in your health, as it delivers oxygen and nutrients to all the cells of your body. While any number of factors can affect the efficiency of this system, you can learn how to improve circulation with exercise and other lifestyle choices for optimal health.
Understanding How The Cardiovascular System Works: Your Heart, Arteries, And Veins
The blood circulatory system, also known as the cardiovascular system, is made up of your heart and the blood vessels that run throughout your body.
You may already know that veins carry blood to the heart, while arteries carry blood away from the heart.
What you may not know, however, is that there are actually two blood circulatory systems in your body: the pulmonary circulation and the systemic circulation systems.
The pulmonary circulation system carries oxygen-poor blood from your heart to your lungs, then returns oxygen-rich blood back to your heart.
The systemic circulation system carries oxygen-rich blood to all the cells throughout your body, then returns the oxygen-poor blood back to the heart.1,2
For good health, these intricate systems need to run like well-oiled machines, which is why your doctor may stress a lifestyle that supports good blood circulation. This often includes exercise, a healthy diet, and quitting smoking.
Risk Factors For Circulation Problems
Poor blood circulation in itself is not a condition — rather, it’s the result of one or more health issues. Risk factors for circulation problems may include:
- High blood sugar levels
- Heart conditions
- Peripheral arterial issues, such as narrowed arteries that restrict blood flow to extremities
- Blood clots 3
Signs Of Poor Blood Circulation
Depending on your particular health issue(s), signs of poor blood circulation can include:
- Cold hands and feet
- Pins and needles
- Stinging or throbbing pain in extremities
- Muscle cramps
- Swelling in ankles, legs, and feet
- Varicose veins 4
How Can Exercise Help Blood Circulation?
Exercise can play a vital role in supporting blood circulation. Below are just three of the many benefits exercise can provide to your cardiovascular system.
- Exercise can help you lose weight, which has been shown to specifically support blood circulation to the heart muscle — this is called coronary circulation. 5
- Exercise can support the function of the cells that line your blood vessels and produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide makes it easier for blood, oxygen, and nutrients to flow throughout your body. 6
- Exercise can support a healthy resting heart rate and respiratory rate by training your body to use oxygen more efficiently. 7
So, how much exercise do you need to support your circulation? Researchers estimate that simply meeting the U.S. government’s recommendation for physical activity can reduce most Americans’ likelihood of a cardiovascular event by 30% to 40%. 8
The recommendation is simple: 30 minutes or more of an activity at a moderate intensity, on most (but preferably all) days of the week.
What’s “moderate intensity,” you ask? Think walking at a brisk pace, covering 3 to 4 miles per hour.
It should be noted that you should always consult your doctor before making lifestyle changes, including starting a new exercise routine or diet.
Support Your Circulation With These Accessible And Affordable Forms Of Exercise
The best form of physical activity to support your circulation is an exercise you’ll actually do. Below are three types of activities that are accessible to all physical fitness levels.
Walking is one of the easiest ways to support cardiovascular health (that is, the health of your heart and blood vessels) through movement. It’s accessible to nearly everyone across all demographics, including the elderly and those who require low-impact forms of exercise.
Additionally, walking requires no particular athletic ability or learning new movements, so it poses little risk of injury. Walking is also the recommended physical activity prescribed by doctors to inactive individuals. 9
All you need to get started is a comfortable pair of walking shoes. Need a little motivation? A report comparing multiple well-respected studies found that walking may reduce the risk of a cardiovascular event by 31%. 10
Swimming is gentle on your joints and muscles while providing your heart and lungs with a powerful workout. This type of training helps the body use oxygen more efficiently. 11
Additionally, swimming may support blood circulation by :
- Increasing blood flow velocity.
- Reducing stiffness of the carotid arteries, which are the major blood vessels that supply blood to the face, brain, and neck. 12
While some view yoga as just a means to help with stress and flexibility, yoga can also be a powerful tool in supporting blood circulation.
Studies show this meditative form of physical activity can support healthy blood flow and levels of red blood cells and hemoglobin, enabling more oxygen to reach your cells.
Try incorporating these circulation-promoting yoga poses into your fitness routine:
Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward-Face Dog allows gravity to help facilitate the flow of blood to your head by positioning your hips over your heart and your heart over your head. This pose also works to strengthen your legs, which may support blood flow.
Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
Warrior II is a standing pose that works to increase blood flow as your muscles compress and release the veins in your legs.
Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana)
Another standing pose, Triangle builds muscle tone which aids in the circulation of blood through the legs. Additionally, this pose works to support blood circulation in your torso by opening up the chest and expanding the lungs.
Legs Up The Wall (Viparita Karani)
Like Downward-Facing Down, Legs Up The Wall is an inversion pose, meaning your heart is positioned higher from the ground than your head. Particularly important for those who sit for long periods of time, this pose can aid in blood circulation by taking the pressure off your legs and feet, relieving the pooling of fluid or blood in your extremities. 13
How To Support Circulation Through Diet And Other Healthy Lifestyle Choices
One of the best ways to support circulation could be by taking a holistic approach. Consider the science backing these healthy habits.
Make Yourself A Cup Of Green Tea
Two separate studies found that the habitual consumption of green tea is associated with better coronary arterial health.14,15
Get More Omega-3 Fatty Acids Into Your Diet
Multiple studies have shown the cardiovascular benefits of including omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, as well as supporting the production of nitric oxide. 16
You can find omega-3s in oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, as well as kale. Or you can simply take an omega-3 supplement.
Tobacco smoke chemicals not only damage your blood cells, but they harm the structure and function of your blood vessels and your heart. This damage enables plaque to build up in your arteries, limiting the vital flow of oxygen-rich blood to every part of your body. 17
It might be time to talk to your doctor about ways to support you in quitting smoking.
Support Blood Flow With Exercise And Diet
As you may have noticed from the above tips, supporting your circulation ties in with nearly any healthy lifestyle. Anyone — at any age or physical level — can start to increase blood flow with simple changes, from moving your legs more to making a tuna sandwich to sipping on green tea.