How Moving More Can Improve Your Vein Health

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Sure, apples may get all the keep-the-doctor-away glory, but exercise is essential to good health. How essential? Physical activity can help prevent and slow the progression of venous (vein-related) diseases and other conditions.

Henry Ford Health System vascular surgeon Paul Corcoran, M.D., shares how even small steps can yield big benefits.

Make Your Move: Why And How To Incorporate Exercise

Moved to improve or maintain your health? Dr. Corcoran explains why exercise matters and offers easy tips to get moving in the right direction.

“There are two levels of lack of activity,” Dr. Corcoran explains. “Sedentary is generally defined as sitting for more than four consecutive hours per day. Physically inactive means not participating in moderate physical exercise.” How do you know if you’re getting moderate physical activity? Your heart is beating faster, and you’re putting in a moderate amount of effort.

A COVID Side Effect

Perhaps an unexpected outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is reduced physical activity. “Due to pandemic-related restrictions, more people are working from home,” Dr. Corcoran offers. “This can mean fewer trips to the copier, less time going up and down stairs and reduced physical labor.” This reduction in activity has led to the so-called “Quarantine 15” weight gain and the onset or worsening of venous symptoms.

The Venous Disease And Exercise Connection

Some forms of venous disease result in swollen legs, bulging veins, nighttime cramps and a feeling of heaviness in the legs. These symptoms can improve (or worsen) with activity levels. “Depending on the severity of venous disease, we often start with a conservative approach,” says Dr. Corcoran. “This can include adding exercise. Exercise not only helps the vascular system but can also contribute to weight loss and better cardiovascular health.”

Dr. Corcoran recommends seeing a provider if you have venous symptoms like swelling in the extremities, bulging veins and wounds that won’t heal. These symptoms could be signs of venous insufficiency, which can result in venous stasis (skin ulcers) or varicose veins. “It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis. After all, you won’t be able to address a problem if you don’t know you have it.”

The Power Of Exercise

Exercise does more than stave off health concerns. It can also slow the progression of disease. “Movement can move people in a positive direction with their health,” states Dr. Corcoran. “In fact, exercise often has as much impact on the improvement of venous disease as surgery.” He points out that exercise can improve blood vessel, heart and lung health while supporting overall longevity.

Dr. Corcoran cautions people to consult their provider before beginning any exercise regimen. “This is especially important if you have heart or vascular disease,” he remarks.

Here are some easy ways to promote exercise and improve your vascular health everyday:

  • Don’t sit out on life. An easy way to add activity to your day is to spend less time on the couch or recliner. “Even getting up and moving for five to 10 minutes an hour can be beneficial,” says Dr. Corcoran. “Walk around the house or go up and down the stairs. Anything that minimizes time spent seated or lying down is a step in the right direction.”
  • Walk on. Speaking of taking steps, walking is at the top of Dr. Corcoran’s list of recommended exercises. “For those without mobility issues, walking is an easy — and usually free — way to incorporate activity,” Dr. Corcoran remarks. “If you don’t have a treadmill, walk outside. If the weather’s bad, walk through the mall. You don’t have to powerwalk to get powerful results. A brisk pace will do.” Walking isn’t the only path to exercise, of course. “Ride a bike, swim, do water aerobics or dance,” says Dr. Corcoran. “Just start moving.”
  • Eliminate an all-or-nothing mentality. Experts recommend exercising 30 minutes per day, but anything is better than nothing. “If you can’t do 30 minutes at a time, start with smaller intervals,” advises Dr. Corcoran. “The same is true with the number of steps. Don’t get hung up on numbers. Create a daily exercise routine and work toward a goal of increasing your activity.”
  • Pump it up. Want to flex your biceps? Go right ahead. But if you're going to pump up heart health, exercise your calf muscles. “The calf muscles pump blood from the leg back through the vascular system,” explains Dr. Corcoran. “This helps with edema and managing venous disease, as well as building strength.”
  • Create a support system. Activity loves company. Dr. Corcoran recommends making positive changes a family or friendly affair. “Whether you’re incorporating exercise, quitting tobacco or eating healthier, it’s easier and more fun to do with someone else. That can be a spouse, a child, a neighbor or a friend. We’re better together.”
  • Get the best care. “If you have symptoms of venous insufficiency, seek care from a provider who will treat you, not just your condition,” suggests Dr. Corcoran. “A lot of people are afraid to make an appointment because they assume a vascular surgeon will recommend surgery. That’s not always the case. Find a provider who’s focused on your total well-being. Exercise, diet and medical management can have an incredibly positive impact on your health and your life.”
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To find a vascular specialist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (1-800-436-7936).

Dr. Paul Corcoran is a vascular surgeon who sees patients at various Henry Ford Health System locations, including Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Categories: MoveWell