Varicose veins are gnarled, raised blood vessels that are most often seen in the legs. They are not only unsightly, but can also cause a feeling of heaviness, aching, burning, throbbing and tingling in the legs. About one-half of the U.S. adult population has some degree of varicose veins.
There are several medical procedures available to treat varicose veins, including sclerotherapy, endovenous laser treatment, radiofrequency ablation and surgery. Some of these treatments are invasive and sometimes uncomfortable.
Luckily, there is a way to help reduce existing varicose veins and prevent the formation of new ones. It is a relatively simple solution: exercise.
How exercise helps
When experiencing tired, achy legs as a result of varicose veins, the last thing most people want to do is get up and exercise. The fact is that there are simple exercises which help to ease the discomfort caused by already-developed varicose veins, as well as help reduce the chance of developing new ones.
Exercise works by improving circulation and muscle tone in the legs. Exercises that work the calves are particularly helpful, because this area of your legs helps with circulation, pumping blood through the veins of the leg and back up to the heart. Exercise that gives your legs a workout helps to lower the risk of developing new varicose veins. Regular exercise also works to lower hypertension or high blood pressure and enhances the entire circulatory system.
Here are some of the simple exercises that can help treat existing and prevent new varicose veins:
- Walking: Walking increases circulation to the legs.
- Jogging: Jogging improves general circulation to the lower extremities.
- Cycling: Cycling on a regular or stationary bicycle enhances overall circulation.
- Pedaling: Lying flat on your back, lift legs off the floor and pedal as if riding a bicycle. The higher the legs are held, the better the circulation to them. Lowering the legs while still pedaling will help to work the abdominals and tone the stomach muscles.
- Leg lifts: To most improve circulation to the legs, lie flat on your back on the floor. Lift one leg at a time until perpendicular to the floor. Hold the position for at least 10 seconds and then return the original position. Repeat with opposite leg.
In addition to regular exercise, there are general guidelines for reducing the risk of developing varicose veins. They include ideas for lifestyle changes that are good health practices:
- Avoid standing too long at one time and walk around at least every one-half hour
- Stop smoking
- Maintain a healthy and reasonable body weight
- Elevate feet whenever possible
- Avoid wearing constricting clothes
- Be aware of the side effects of estrogen-rich birth control pills — which includes an increased risk of developing varicose veins
- Wear gradient compression stockings, particularly if recommended by a healthcare professional
- Seek medical treatment options if existing varicose veins evolve and create concerning physical symptoms
As with any new exercise program, it is important to get clearance from your doctor before beginning this new exercise regime.