Edmund has spent the last ten years working in clinical research. He has written many articles on human anatomy and physiology.
Improve Your Blood Flow Naturally
There are many natural ways to improve your blood circulation. When combined with a balanced diet and regular exercise, the following tips can be a powerful guide for a healthier lifestyle.
Clinical studies have shown that unhealthy eating habits have a negative impact on blood flow and the cardiovascular system as a whole. Poor eating habits usually lead to high blood cholesterol levels, which have a negative effect on blood circulation. The key is to avoid foods that are processed and/or high in cholesterol—including low-density lipoprotein, also known as 'bad' fat.
Fiber-rich diets have been proven to be effective at improving blood flow. Fruits and veggies are good sources of dietary fiber. Clinical studies have shown that some low-fat vegetarian and vegan diets have significant effects in terms of reducing the concentration of 'bad' fat in the blood.
Remember to stay hydrated. More than 90% of your blood is water.
This includes tobacco chews and other tobacco products.
Smoking exposes the bloodstream to harmful substances. These substances are renowned for their devastating effect on the heart and blood vessels through plaque buildup. Researchers have repeatedly shown that smoking significantly increases the risk of heart diseases such as atherosclerosis.
It is a challenge to quit smoking no matter the approach you choose to take. It is, therefore, best to set up a plan and consult your doctor. Your doctor should introduce you to a smoking cessation program that suits you.
The video below tells the story of how several years of smoking and high blood cholesterol levels affected a woman's cardiovascular system.
Regular exercise combined with a healthy diet has been shown to halt and even reverse the progression of certain cardiovascular diseases. Swimming, weightlifting and aerobic exercises are great ways to boost your blood circulation.
These simple choices will further improve your fitness, reduce your body fat and boost your blood circulation:
- Trek or bike to a nearby store instead of going by car.
- Take the stairs instead of the lift.
- Do not stay in the same posture for too long, especially when travelling.
- If you have a desk job, get up and take a short walk about every couple of hours.
Studies have shown that aiming for a healthy body weight will improve your blood circulation and reduce your risk of certain heart diseases. Weight gain forces your heart to work much harder to pump blood to the extremities. Losing excess weight enables your heart to pump blood to the extremities with a lesser effort, providing an adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout your body.
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Apart from relaxing your stiff muscles, a warm bath or shower can temporally increase your blood flow. Warm water causes vasodilation; widening of blood vessels leading to an increase in blood flow. The same principle is used in hydrotherapy, the use of water to treat or relieve a condition or simply to promote general health and wellbeing.
Researchers at the University of Illinois (UIC) conducted a study to investigate the effect of massage on blood flow. Standard massage therapy was administered to one group of participants while another group acted as the control (no massage). Blood flow was measured at multiple time points for all participants. A significant improvement in blood flow was observed in the massage group compared to the control group.
Dr. Cunningham, who has over 40 years of experience teaching yoga, believes that yoga is not only effective in managing stress and improving respiratory function but also boosts blood circulation and improves overall health.
There are many different kinds of yoga. While some types of yoga demand a hard workout that requires you to bend and twist in insane positions, others are much more gentle with little to no bending or twisting. Anyone can practice yoga, no matter your skill set. You need to pick the type of yoga that works for you.
Causes of Poor Blood Flow
Poor blood circulation usually occurs when fatty materials such as cholesterol are deposited on the inner lining of blood vessels (arteries and veins). These deposits may build up gradually over time, leading to the narrowing of vessels.
This type of fat deposit on blood vessels is referred to as plaque. This progressive disease is called atherosclerosis. It ranges from a mild obstruction to a complete blockage of a blood vessel. If left untreated, plaques that continue to protrude into blood vessels can lead to serious medical conditions such as hypertension, varicose veins, phlebitis, peripheral artery disease (PAD), heart attack and stroke.
As discussed above, an unhealthy lifestyle is one of the most important causes of poor blood circulation. Smoking, poor diet, eating disorder, obesity and lack of exercise are some of its associated factors.
The following medical conditions are also known to cause poor blood circulation:
- A clot in a blood vessel
- Inflammation of a blood vessel
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of poor blood circulation include:
- Tingling sensation in hands and feet
- Numbness in hands and feet
- Cold hands and feet
- Swelling in hands and feet
- Dry skin
- Change in the color of the skin
- Cramping of legs
- Cramping of muscle of the buttocks
- Shortness of breath
- Lack of stamina
- Irregular heartbeats
- Slow wound healing
Some of these symptoms are due to poor delivery of oxygen, nutrients and vital elements to the target tissue or organ. The symptoms often start mildly, then slowly worsen over time. It is important to spot these warning signs early enough and get them under control before they turn into a more serious medical condition.
It is critical that you discuss your symptoms with your health care provider as soon as possible to avoid serious health complications.
Effects of Poor Circulation Caused by Plaque Formation
Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol and other molecules found in the blood. Plaque can form in any part of the body, usually in the presence of high blood cholesterol. The formation starts on the inner wall of blood vessels, then gradually protrudes into the vessel as the fat deposit slowly builds up. The blood vessels become narrower and narrower leading to an obstruction of blood flow. This forces the heart to work harder to push the same amount of blood through the body. Plaques tend to stiffen with time, causing the blood vessel to become rigid. The thickening and hardening of blood vessels as a result of plaque is called atherosclerosis.
The rate of growth of plaque increases with an increase in the number of risk factors. In other words, the rate of plaque formation is faster in someone with many risk factors than in someone with fewer risk factors.
Plaque build-up in delicate organs has serious medical consequences: a build-up in the brain can lead to a stroke, a build-up in the heart can lead to a heart attack, and a build-up in blood vessels of the kidneys can lead to kidney failure.
A plaque may eventually rupture to cause a blockage of a blood vessel. The body reacts to such a rupture by forming a blood clot. This is the same way the body would repair a cut on the surface of the skin. Such a clot in the blood vessel can completely block the already narrow vessel. Occasionally, part of the clot can break away to block a blood vessel in another part of the body such as: in the heart causing a heart attack, in the brain causing a stroke, or in the kidney causing kidney failure, as already mentioned above. It is therefore important for physicians to stabilize a plaque to prevent it from bursting.
Plaque formation in less sensitive areas of the body like the arms or leg may lead to a condition known as peripheral artery disease, or PAD. If this condition is left untreated, it can lead to amputation. Symptoms include aching pain in the buttocks, thigh, hip and calf muscles and numbness in the arm or leg. Call your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms. The presence of these symptoms may also suggest plaque build-up in other parts of the body, including vital organs such as the heart, brain and kidneys.
Understanding factors associated with plaque formation and keeping them under control is an important step to improving circulation and increasing blood flow. Remember, medications are less efficient without a healthy lifestyle.
- Nutrition and Heart Health, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
- How Does Smoking Affect the Heart and Blood Vessels? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
- Effects of Hydrotherapy, US National Library of Medicine
- Massage Therapy Improves Circulation, April 2014, UIC
- Yoga and Heart Health, American Heart Association (AHA)
- Atherosclerosis, AHA
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
OLUSEGUN from NIGERIA on November 14, 2019:
Wow! This intriguing! It is educative!
humasamreen on September 04, 2015:
Thank u it helped me alot
DREAM ON on November 07, 2013:
Preventive medicine always works better than treating a problem after.Thank you for sharing good knowledge of staying healthy and living a long life.
Esther Strong from UK on April 08, 2013:
We really shouldn't take our health for granted and need to heed warning signs such as the ones you have highlighted. Many thanks for sharing.
david stillwagon on January 19, 2013:
Interesting and helpful hub, especially if you have high blood pressure (I do)
Edmund Custers (author) on January 19, 2013:
Thank you for stopping by.
Sarahshuihan - Thanks for sharing. I appreciate it.
Gail from Small Town Tennessee on January 19, 2013:
Excellent hub! Well written and very informative. Thank you!
sarahshuihan on January 19, 2013:
Very well written hub! I will say that exercise and diet are the cures to most ailments :P If people want to further improve their circulation, they should look into dry skin brushing, apparently it's really helped a lot of people.