Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.
Are you feeling weary? Are you having trouble focusing? Are your hands or feet chilly, even when the weather is warm? The reason could be a problem in your circulatory system.
Like breathing and other automatic bodily functions, circulation is something we seldom think about. When it is properly functioning, the circulatory system is like a smooth flowing highway. Traffic moves efficiently, delivering drivers to destinations in a timely manner.
A similar process occurs in the body. Blood moves through the heart, lungs, arteries and veins, providing the cells with life-sustaining oxygen and nutrients while removing carbon dioxide and other waste products. But if blood flow is obstructed, every cell in the body is affected. Symptoms of poor circulation run the gamut, from brain fog, numbness and burning or tingling sensations in toes or fingers to pain in the legs when walking, shortness of breath, fatigue and chilliness, especially in the extremities. Circulatory problems also contribute to serious health disorders, like high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack.
Healthy circulation can be obstructed by inflammation or accumulations of plaque and by fatty deposits or clots in blood vessels. A sedentary lifestyle, excess weight, smoking and a poor diet can harm circulation, too. So do a long list of health issues, including peripheral arterial disease (PAD) and chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).
First Stop: The Doctor`s Office
A thorough physical examination is the best way to diagnose circulatory disorders. Many times, simple lifestyle changes, taking up regular moderate exercise for example, work wonders for circulation. Exercise can also strengthen the heart, help lower blood pressure and relieve stress, all of which provide circulation with an additional boost.
If your physician has given the go-ahead to get moving, but you are having trouble starting or sticking with — an exercise program, here are a few suggestions that could help:
* Exercise first thing in the morning so you can enjoy the feeling of accomplishment;
* Break up the 30 to 45 minutes daily dose into ten- to fifteen-minute long sessions throughout the day;
* Vary your routine to prevent boredom and injuries;
* Join a social group focused on a specific activity, like ballroom dancing, bicycle riding or hiking;
* Remember that doing something even for ten minutes is better than doing nothing.
How Food Affects Circulation
Making dietary changes is a good way to improve circulation. Start by eliminating caffeine, alcohol and soft drinks and avoiding foods that can slow circulation, like those high in sugar, starch and fat. Focus on getting more fiber to reduce unhealthy cholesterol levels. Replace artery-clogging trans fats and saturated fats with `good fats` or omega-3s found in fish and fish oil supplements, olive and grape seed oils, and the monounsaturated fats found in walnuts and other nuts.
Drink plenty of water. Even slight dehydration can impair circulation by making blood thicker and harder to move through the body. For a bit of flavor, add a wedge of lemon, lime or orange, a slice of cucumber or a splash of juice.
Supplements can provide circulation-friendly nutrients that are difficult to get from food alone. The group known as vitamin B complex, for example, supports healthy circulation. Foods rich in B vitamins include beans, molasses, meat, potatoes, lentils, nutritional yeast and chili peppers. Circulation-stimulating products that combine various helpful nutrients are another option. Your physician can help you choose the ones that are right for you and your body`s particular needs.