Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted veins that are visible under the skin and by age 50 more than half of all people have some form of varicose veins.
Veins largely appear in the legs, but can appear in other parts of the body and women are more affected than men.
The theory is that humans get varicose veins because we walk upright and our bodies have a harder time returning blood from the lower extremities of our bodies to the heart. The veins rely on one-way valves and the action of moving muscles to return the blood.
Cause of varicose veins
Because of a sedentary lifestyle our legs muscles are not squeezing as much blood back to the heart, and if the one-way valves become weak, blood can leak down into the veins. The term for this is venous insufficiency. This backed-up blood can lead to varicose veins.
Moderate exercise, especially gentle exercise involving the legs, increases blood circulation. This can improve the appearance of varicose veins and prevent the forming of new ones. It must however be emphasised that the exercise should not be too strenuous and be stopped immediately if there is any discomfort or pain.
Not all exercise is good for your veins
Exercise is crucial for healthy veins, but some forms of exercise are better for your veins than others. When you exercise, blood is pumped back to the heart from the veins in the foot and especially the calf muscle. Having strong calf muscles is therefore good for circulation and helps prevent venous insufficiency.
Running and jogging certainly get the feet and calf muscles going, but “pounding the pavement” and other high-impact exercises may aggravate the swelling of varicose veins. Gentle jogging on a softer surface will reduce the stress on your joints and lessen the strain on your veins. Wearing compression stockings can also help.
Weightlifting is also not good for varicose veins as increased abdominal pressure and straining can reduce the flow out of your legs returning to your heart. The blood can then pool, and increase pressure in the veins of your legs, causing vein dilation and damage to the valves. If you want to lift weights, do more reps with lighter weights and try to keep your legs at the same level or higher than your heart. Also avoid holding your breath while lifting.
Other exercises that may exacerbate varicose veins, because of increased abdominal pressure and subsequent pressure in the leg veins, are:
- Yoga (prolonged abdominal posturing)
In a nutshell
Patients suffering from varicose veins may be able to improve and reduce the likelihood of worsening symptoms by staying active and starting a low-impact exercise programme like swimming or walking. Wearing compression stockings and losing a few kilos will also be beneficial.
Exercise and Varicose Veins: The Dos and Don’ts (2014). http://www.veinspecialists.com/blog/exercise-and-varicose-veins/
EMORY HEALTHCARE. Will Exercise Hurt my Varicose Veins? (2015). http://advancingyourhealth.org/heartblog/2015/03/02/will-exercise-hurt-my-varicose-veins/