As you walk around and move throughout the day, the muscles in your legs contract, forcing blood up the veins of your legs. Valves in the veins keep the blood from flowing back down. When these valves weaken, they can't hold back the blood, and it pools in your lower legs. The condition, known as venous insufficiency, can be due to age, obesity or inactivity, according to Penn State's Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Exercise can help overcome these problems.
Extending your legs and flexing your feet back and forth can help your circulation. Milton S. Hershey Medical Center recommends you flex your legs, feet and ankles 10 times every 30 minutes whenever you have to sit for long periods, such as on a long car or plane trip.
Weakened calf muscles can contribute to chronic venous insufficiency, according to Dr. Frank T.Padberg, Jr. of New Jersey Medical School. Dr. Padberg, along with Mark Johnston and Sue Ann Sisto, studied 31 patients with chronic venous insuffiency. The 2003 study, published in the "Journal of Vascular Surgery" concluded that six months of exercises to strengthen the patients' calf muscles resulted in an improved ability of calf muscles to pump blood back up the body. One simple way to strengthen calves is to stand flat footed, then slowly raise up on your toes. Hold for a few seconds, then lower the heels to the ground. You can steady yourself by holding onto a table or chair. Do this daily, as many repetitions as you can. As you become proficient, you can add weight in a backpack, or stand on one leg and raise up on one leg at a time.
Walking is a low-impact exercise that causes the muscles in the legs to contract, helping to force the blood back up. Walking regularly can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which can help lessen symptoms of venous insufficiency. If you have not walked a lot before, check with your doctor to see if walking is a good exercise with you. Wear supportive walking shoes. Start slowly and gradually build up the distance you can walk.
Bicycling is another good activity that increases circulation in your legs, according to the University of Michigan Health System. Cycling is another good way to maintain your weight, also. You can ride a bicycle around your neighborhood, or work out on a stationary bicycle at home or at a gym.
If your legs hurt too much for walking or cycling, swimming offers a non-weight bearing alternative. Even if you don't swim, you can use a kickboard in the pool to exercise your legs.
Is This an Emergency?
- University of Michigan Health System: Varicose Veins
- Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center: Chronic Venous Insufficiency
- University of Washington Medicine: Strengthening Exercises — Calf Strengthening I
- University of Washington Medicine: Strengthening Exercises — Calf Strengthening II
- "Journal of Vascular Surgery"; Structured Exercise Improves Calf Muscle Pump Function in Chronic Venous Insufficiency — a Random Trial; Dr. Frank Padberg, Mark Johnson and Sue Ann Sisto; 2003