Circulation health: How to improve your circulation
Okay, it may sound hackneyed advice by now, but the importance of eating a well-balanced, nutritionally dense diet can’t be overstated for your circulation. your circulatory system doesn’t ask for much in return. Like most areas of your biology, what it wants is clean, colourful, circulation-friendly food. making smarter food choices will also help you maintain a healthy weight. indeed, the strain on your circulatory system is much greater if you’re overweight.
Make every effort to reduce your intake of highly processed, ultra-refined foods – added sugars and trans fats push all the wrong buttons for your circulation. Following a mainly whole food diet – with as few minimally processed ingredients as possible – is one of the best ways to support your circulatory health. Try to live by this mantra: limit any food products that contain more than five ingredients.
De-clutter your kitchen pantry and consider removing all the sugary, unhealthy snacks. out of sight, out of mind, right?
Fill up on fibre
Fibre is one of the best fuels for circulatory health; with a growing body of scientific data suggesting regular consumption may support cardiovascular function.(8) Dietary fibre – also colloquially known as ‘roughage’ – is believed to lower both cholesterol and blood pressure, and may even support weight loss – which may support overall circulatory health.(9) Eating more plant foods – think fruits, vegetables, beans, pulses, wholegrains, nuts and seeds – is a simple way to up your fibre intake. Aim for a smorgasbord of colour and variety, too.
Sack the saturates
All the talk about fats can be confusing at times. There’s the good kind and the bad kind. But when it comes to circulatory health, the advice is unwavering: replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats. Eating a diet rich in saturated fats can elevate levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, which may increase the risk of heart and circulatory complications.(11) Limit or, better yet, cut out the saturated fats found in butter, lard, ghee, cheese and fatty meats. Instead, choose the healthy unsaturated fats in oily fish, nuts and olive oil.
Beyond laying a robust foundation with a varied, whole food, and minimally processed diet, cherry-picking certain foods will turbocharge your circulatory health and take it to the next level. make it your mission to add the following circulation-friendly treats to the menu this week.
Beetroot mania: Beetroot is universally accepted to be a powerhouse for health – and circulatory health is no exception. These bright, bulbous beauties contain nutrients that may improve blood flow.
Go fish: A staple of the traditional Mediterranean diet and widely eaten by the world’s Blue Zones – hotspots of longevity, like Sardinia, Italy or Ikaria, Greece – oily fish is packed with goodness. The likes of salmon, anchovies and mackerel are rich in the omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid (DHA/EPA), which contribute to the maintenance of normal blood pressure.
Share an orange: These zingy fruits are also a useful source of vitamin C, which contributes to normal collagen formation for the normal function of blood vessels. Collagen provides the primary building material for the miles of tiny capillaries that carry blood from arteries directly to the cells.
Cayenne kick: Studies have shown that constituents of cayenne pepper – capsicum, in particular – may support circulatory health (12).
Members of the flavonoid family, anthocyanidins are the Big Daddy of the antioxidant world. A regular dietary intake of anthocyanidins may contribute to the production of collagen – an integral building block of the body’s delicate capillaries, which may, in turn, support circulation in the legs. (34). You can find high concentrations of anthocyanidins in purple coloured plant foods, such as blueberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, strawberries, pomegranate, black plums, aubergine, red cabbage, cherries and cranberries.
Dark-skinned fruits might just be the missing ingredient from your diet. These plant foods contain powerful antioxidants called anthocyanidins, which support the body's collagen formation. Collagen plays a multifaceted role in the body, including serving as a structural component of capillaries. Weakened collagen may damage your capillary walls and lead to ‘leaky’ blood vessels. (35)
Blood sugar control
Amongst its breadth of responsibilities, the circulatory system helps to regulate your blood glucose (sugar) levels. (36) let’s get scientific briefly: the blood carries the hormone, glucagon, which prompts the liver to release glucose into the blood. the presence of insulin in the blood then signals the cells to absorb glucose from the blood. But if your blood glucose levels become elevated for extended periods, it may damage your blood vessels. and if scores of blood vessels are damaged, this may have negative repercussions on other areas of the body.
Tweaking certain aspects of your lifestyle can help manage your blood sugar levels:
Replace refined, processed carbohydrates (think white bread, pastries and sugary breakfast cereals) with wholegrain foods, such as brown rice, quinoa, wholewheat bread, oats, buckwheat and spelt
Increase your intake of plant foods rich in dietary fibre, like fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds
Reduce your consumption of saturated fats – cheese, biscuits, cakes, fatty cuts of meat, cured meats, butter, ghee and lard
Set realistic weight loss goals to achieve a healthy body mass index (BMI) (between 18.5-24.9)
Ensure you take the full 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, as per the NHS guidelines
Alongside anthocyanidins, you may also want to increase your dietary intake of certain plant foods, namely apples, figs and asparagus. These contain the powerful bioflavonoid, rutin, which is often found alongside vitamin C.
Everyone needs some fat to stay healthy. But having too much visceral fat – hidden fat that envelopes your organs, especially around the waist – can put your health at risk. Carrying extra weight may strain your circulatory system; your heart has to work harder to move blood around your body, increasing blood pressure. you’re also more likely to have high cholesterol, which can lead to fatty materials building up over time.
Dubbed one of the healthiest drinks on the planet, green tea is loaded with powerful antioxidants. For more information on how this popular beverage may support your health at this time, jump online.
Cholesterol helps the body insulate nerves, build new cells, and produce hormones. for the most part, the liver manufactures all the cholesterol the body needs. However, cholesterol also enters your body via dietary sources, namely from animal products, like eggs, meat, and dairy. and when there’s a surplus of cholesterol in your blood, it disrupts the blood flow to the heart muscle and poses a risk to your health.
Eating more plant foods is a simple way to support the reduction of cholesterol. Fibre slows digestion and grabs onto fats so they can't be metabolised by the body. Consider upping your intake of grains, lentils, beans and veggies.
Plant sterols: Plant sterols have a similar structure to the body’s own cholesterol. Due to their unique bioactivity, plant sterols may contribute to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels in the circulation. *
CoQ10: CoQ10 is a popular choice for those on cholesterol-lowering statins.
Garlic: Garlic is the perfect partner for anyone considering or already taking plant sterols. Garlic may help maintain normal cholesterol levels in the circulation when part of a healthy diet, so use these bulbous beauties liberally in your cooking.
While a healthy diet and robust exercise regime will undoubtedly work wonders for your circulatory system, admittedly, it can only get you so far. if you smoke or overindulge in alcohol, it may undo all your hard work. But it’s not just a case of cutting out habits; you may also profit from adding new rituals to your daily routine, like dry brushing or a cold morning shower.
Move like a yogi
Yogis wax lyrical about yoga for a good reason. Beyond its relaxing and mood-elevating qualities, yoga is a powerful weapon for circulation. This ancient practice helps drives fresh blood and reverses blood flow. There’s no shortage of circulation friendly poses in yoga but putting your legs up against a wall is particularly famed for its blood flowing properties.
Legs against the wall: Placing your legs above your heart, this restorative pose will counter how many of us sit every day. This position will help to rebalance normal blood flow and relieve the pooling of blood in your extremities.
If you’re a serial leg-crosser, it’s time to kick the habit. Sure, this position may feel comfortable, but it cuts the circulation to your leg tissue, harming the circulatory system in your lower body. Make a conscious effort to sit in a position that’s more conducive to good circulation, especially if you sit for much of the day.
It should come as no surprise that smoking is the greatest single cause of ill health and premature death in the UK. (20) Smoking is associated with circulatory complications. This habit causes your blood vessels to narrow, leading to the build-up of fatty deposits. (21) And if the blood can’t flow freely through the vessels, it may result in partial or total loss of circulation in some regions of the body.
Bar binge drinking
While the allure of alcohol is undeniable, the health implications are worth meditating on. Long-term heavy drinking may increase cholesterol and blood pressure, both of which are considerable circulatory risks. (22) In an ideal world, try to have no more than one drink a day. The NHS guidelines advise against drinking more than 14 units a week. And if you’re drinking habitually, try to spread your consumption over 3 or more days. Remember, you should have several drink-free days a week, too.
Drink more water
To support blood flow, you should aim to drink at least 1.5 litres of water each day – more if you’re active. Struggle to hit your H2O quota? Set an alarm three times per day to remind you to sip. You could also invest in a 600ml water bottle: try to have one serving finished by lunchtime and one by the end of work, and then top yourself up before dinner. Oh, and if straight-up water isn’t your thing, add lemon, cucumber, or mint leaves for flavour.
Stress less and sleep more
An unexpected bill, relationship trouble, a strongly worded email from your boss – stress abounds our modern-day life. Stress triggers the ‘flight or fight’ response in the body: your heart rate increases, and there are stronger contractions of the heart muscle. (23) The stress hormones – cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline – perform as chemical messengers for these effects. Beyond this, the blood vessels transporting blood to your heart and major organs dilate, elevating blood pressure. (24) Over time, chronic stress may compromise your circulatory system.
There’s no doubt about it: sleep problems and circulatory issues are often in bed together. Whether you experience the unrelenting wrath of insomnia, or regularly short-changing slumber in favour of social or work commitments, skimping on sleep can have far-reaching repercussions for your circulatory health.
Long-term sleep deprivation can lead to a surge in stress hormones, like cortisol, and inflammation – both of which play a role in circulatory complications. (26)
An essential trace mineral, chromium contributes to the maintenance of normal blood glucose levels. Sometimes, it's even referred to as 'Glucose Tolerance Factor' or GTF. Science suggests chromium has a complex and intrinsic relationship with the hormone secreted by the pancreas to balance blood sugar levels.
When you’re inactive, there’s usually enough blood and oxygen for your muscles, which is unlikely to cause you any discomfort. But when you are active, your muscles, of course, need more blood and oxygen to operate. and if specific muscles don’t get enough nourishment from blood, you may experience unpleasant restrictions.
Involved in over 300 biochemical reactions, magnesium is essential to good health. Crucially, magnesium contributes to normal muscle function, so may be a helpful addition to your diet. Wholegrains, dark leafy veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds, and even dark chocolate are rich magnesium sources. Try to pack plenty of these foods into your weekly menu.
If you have weak capillaries, blood is more likely to leak out of the vessels when your skin experiences an injury. Some people – particularly women – are more prone to weak capillaries than others. What’s more, as you age, your skin becomes thinner and loses some protective fatty tissue that cushions your blood vessels from injury, such as a fall anthocyanidins. Your capillaries rely on a wealth of nutrients to function optimally, many of which can be found in a well-balanced diet consisting of essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and protein. Beyond these critical dietary building blocks, increasing your intake of anthocyanidins – the purple pigment abundant in plant foods – may support capillary health. Experts have identified that anthocyanidins are active in maintaining and repairing collagen-rich structures in the body. (37) And crucially, collagen serves as a structural part of your capillaries.
Poor circulation in your extremities
Struggling with cold hands and feet is a widespread complaint in the UK. Poor circulation in your extremities occurs when the small blood vessels in your body, namely those in your fingers and toes, are hypersensitive. this hypersensitivity is known to cause a more extreme response to specific triggers, like cold weather.
Cinnamon bark: An excellent seasonal choice, cinnamon bark may help to maintain vascular/vein health. Consider adding this warming spice to vegetable stews or spicy marinades.
Ginkgo Biloba: Ginkgo Biloba has been used for centuries in herbal medicine and developed a reputation as a popular supplement. For more information on this exciting plant, jump online.
Ginger: Ginger is an increasingly popular spice and may be a useful addition at this time. Add this zingy root liberally to smoothies, curries and soups.
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Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.