Many people spend a lot of time sitting during the day. Some do it at their desks, on their daily commute or while relaxing at home. Taking a load off your feet can be relaxing, but sitting too much can increase your risk of getting varicose veins— not to mention being bad for your heart health. Reducing your risk of developing varicose veins or keeping them from becoming worse doesn’t mean giving up sitting. But it does mean becoming more active throughout the day.
Dangers of Sitting All Day
If you already have varicose veins, you may notice that your symptoms worsen after sitting or standing for long periods. This includes:
- discomfort, heaviness, burning or pain in your legs
- swelling in your ankles and feet
- itching in the area of the varicose vein
To understand why sitting for long periods of time can increase your risk of developing varicose veins, it is useful to know how the blood circulates in your body. Your heart pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout the body in arteries. The veins then carry the blood back to the heart from the body’s tissues.
In the legs, extra pressure from the weight of the body and gravity make it harder for the body to move blood from the legs up toward the heart. To help out with this, the veins have valves that keep the blood from flowing backwards. If the valves don’t work properly though, the pressure may be too much from them to stand. This can lead to the pooling of blood in the veins that shows up as spider veins or varicose veins.
The muscles of the lower legs also help return blood to the heart by acting like pumps. Every time you move your legs, the muscles squeeze the veins. But if you sit or stand in the same position for long periods of time — especially with your legs crossed or bent — your blood doesn’t flow as well from the legs to the heart. Over time, this can lead to varicose veins.
How to Prevent Varicose Veins Caused by Sitting All Day
The best way to reduce your risk of getting varicose veins from sitting all day is to move around more. This will increase the flow of blood from your legs. One of the best ways to improve your blood flow is to exercise regularly.
According to current guidelines, you should aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity physical activity, such as walking briskly or bicycling. More exercise or more strenuous activity will provide even more benefits.
In addition to exercising regularly, try to stand up and move around every 30 minutes during the day. This can include:
- Going for a short walk
- Doing some simple yoga poses
- Climbing stairs in between meetings
- Walking to the printer or to your coworker’s office
- Getting off the bus or subway one stop early
If you can’t move around that often —or are flying on an airplane—try flexing the muscles of your legs and wiggling your toes to increase the flow of blood from your legs.
If you alternate between sitting and standing, remember that standing still for long periods of time can also increase your risk of varicose veins. Remember to move around every half hour, whether you are sitting or standing.
Also, try to keep your feet elevated while seated, such as by resting them on a stool or block. You can do this at work or while watching television or reading on the couch at home.
And whenever possible, elevate your legs above the level of your heart for a few minutes several times during the day. For example, lie down with your legs resting on pillows or with your feet on the wall.
Not only will moving around more during the day reduce your risk of varicose veins, it is also good for your heart and will increase the number of calories that you burn. So if in doubt, move about.