When we experience pins and needles in our feet, lower back pain due to kidney strain or any other sign of poor circulation, it’s hard enough to induce a panic. That’s because we give so little thought to how important adequate circulation is, to begin with. However, poor circulation is a sign of an overly taxed cardiovascular system, and as such, can be deadly if not rectified. Research suggests that as many as one in 4, or more likely 3 deaths, are cardiovascular-related, with many of them have been preventable.
Good circulation means you can rid your body of toxins, get vital nutrients to all your organs, and keep the life-sustaining technology in your body such as the kidneys functioning optimally. You need to have a vested interest in your circulatory system so you know what to do if and when a traffic jam occurs. Here’s how you can prevent disaster long term.
1. Eat Foods That Contain L-arginine
L-arginine (or arginine) is a type of amino acid obtained from animal protein sources such as beef, red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Alternatively, you can consume it in supplement form. It has many health benefits – including for vascular health, mental vitality and improving circulation. This little known amino acid and supplement owes its blood-flow superpower to being converted into nitric oxide in the body, causing your blood vessels to open wider.
This is why it also finds application in improving athletic performance. In totality, L-arginine lowers your risk of arteriosclerosis and heart attack, repairs blood vessels, fights coronary artery disease, helps lower blood pressure and fights congestive heart failure. So promising are the benefits of L-arginine that it is currently being trialed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) as a potential remedy for asthma. The trial is being sponsored by the University of California.
2. Jog or Go For A Brisk Walk
Any kind of physical exercise is the key to staying healthy and improving blood flow is no exception. When you exercise, you force the heart to work harder in a positive way, and you also exercise your lungs. When your lungs expand, you inhale more oxygen, allowing that oxygen to get into the bloodstream and to the muscles, while at the same time exhaling more carbon dioxide. So not only are you improving blood flow, but also the actual quality of your blood constituents.
A 2003 study in Circulation journal showed how jogging in particular advanced the aims of the circulatory system and improved circulation. It also improves blood vessel dilation, allowing more oxygen-rich blood to not only pass through but pass through at a more rapid rate. This gets oxygen to the muscles that need them quickly and in plentiful supply, preventing cramping. The added benefit is losing weight and being fitter, so putting less strain on the body in between, thereby alleviating blood flow constraints.
3. Meditate, or Stop And Smell The Roses
When you panic or are in a state of anxiety, you breathe quickly and what tends to happen is that you take short, shallow breaths. This means your blood isn’t properly oxygenated, causing your heart to work harder. At the same time, your adrenal glands kick in, releasing cortisol. All of these effects signal to the body that something is drastically wrong and so to preserve energy and blood flow should you need it later, your blood vessels constrict. Not only is your blood pressure rising and causing abnormal circulation of a different kind, but the strain on your heart, lungs and adrenal glands are not good, especially long term.
We all experience little incidences of stress day in and day out, throughout the day. A calming meditation in the morning will make you more mindful and keep you anxiety-even throughout the day, or better able to center yourself should you feel panic or worry coming on. Mediation can take many forms, including prayer, thinking happy thoughts, doing positive affirmations or doing something physical such as dipping your toes in the water and enjoying it, or stopping to admire the foliage.
4. Fall Under The Spell of Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is a herb and botanical that is an astringent and is one of the most well-known cures for repairing and strengthening vein walls and making them more elastic. If you look for a natural remedy for varicose veins, chances are you’ll see witch hazel in the ingredients.
As a small tree growing up to 5m, Witch Hazel is indigenous to Canada and eastern Northern America. It is packed with concentrated tannins which healing and repairing properties. These are mostly found in the leaves and this where witch hazel oil is extracted from. Witch Hazel helps improve damaged varicose veins, bruises and hemorrhoids.
The leaves and inner bark of Witch Hazel are often distilled and dried as well to help with conditions such as eczema because of its soothing, anti-inflammatory properties. The importance of witch hazel in strengthening vein walls is that it allows the walls to allow through clots or thicker blood, without there being any constriction. When you take away blood flow bottlenecks you get greatly improved blood flow circulation.
5. Say ‘hello’ To Yarrow
Another herb worth cultivating or taking in supplement form is yarrow, although it is less well-known than witch hazel. It is a flowering herb found in Europe and Asia and as such, is well-known in the ayurvedic remedies of China and India. Most of these remedies have been found to be spectacularly potent – after all, they have been treating populations many times the size of western nations throughout the ages.
Yarrow contains property-rich active oils including linalool, camphor, sabinene and also chamazulene. These oils and the active ingredients in yarrow are known to be anti-allergenic and anti-spasmodic in action, so in powder form, is often rubbed on the chest to relieve asthma or wheezing. Yarrow is, as a result, also widely used to lower blood pressure, tone varicose veins and enhance circulation, amongst other health benefits. The flowers and leaves of Yarrow are used in both fresh and dried or powdered forms. You’ll find them in tinctures and essential oil extract format. Yarrow abounds with astringent, antispasmodic, antiseptic, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties.
6. Ditch The Sodium
Sodium, or salt, is one of the most leading causes of blood pressure creeps in industrialized nations. In fact, national health advisories the world over cite salt as the leading food cause of high blood pressure. The average adult should eat no more than 6g of salt a day, but in the US, research shows that most adults are consuming an average of 10g or 12g a day. The problem with salt is its effect on water retention. The more salt you eat, the more water your body stores instead of passing out. It also causes the kidneys to have to work many times harder to flush out toxins and other pollutants in the bloodstream which could also affect circulation.
Salt intake is one of the most difficult things to cut out as sodium is in everything. However, the biggest culprits are preserved foods, even healthy seeming ones such as preserved soups, unless it is labeled as sodium-free or sodium low. Bottled water, fizzy drinks, fast foods, and processed foods are other notable culprits.
7. Stop Smoking
Smoking, like salt, is another major lifestyle habit that causes an increase in blood pressure and therefore makes the blood vessels constrict, leading to poorer circulation. Studies have shown that people who smoke a few cigarettes every day and have had their blood pressure readings taken two weeks after quitting, showed a radical drop in blood pressure of 5 to 10 points.
Cigarettes contain nicotine, and this substance constricts blood vessels. The result? Skyrocketing blood pressure. Worse still, it also increases the fats that circulate in your blood, such as the bad cholesterol from junk food and processed foods. Cigarette smoke is a culprit, which is why being a passive smoker is so bad. The smoke contains carbon monoxide, which decreases the blood cells’ capacity to carry oxygen. This forces the heart to work harder. Niacin or vitamin B3 can help counter nicotine intake by opening blood vessels and allowing more oxygen absorption.
8. Adjust Your Breathing
Sometimes, when no obvious cause of high blood pressure can be found, it can come down to simple things such as adjusting your breathing. Learning to stop at pauses during the day, and breathe from your diaphragm, is one easy practice you can adopt. There are numerous diaphragmatic breathing exercises that you could specifically follow as well. The most important thing is learning to breathe deeply in and exhale sharply out, so that you take in more vital oxygen and breathe out sharply, expelling any carbon dioxide.
Blood that is oxygen-rich is healthy and alleviates heat stress as the heart does not have to work overtime to get oxygen to the muscles. Deep breathing exercises such as yoga breathing exercises also consciously ease the heart’s pump rate and puts the whole body at ease. When signals of calm reach the brain, hormones regulating everything from metabolism to blood pressure to the workings of the tiniest cell kicks in. Thus, the body gets the signal that things are just fine, the blood vessels cease being constricted and blood can flow normally.
9. Stand Up Straight
Your teacher’s instruction to stand up straight was not in vain, nor was mom’s constant posture correction. On a physical level, nothing impedes good circulation as staying in one position – typically the sitting position – all the time. Get up and walk around, move your toes, suck in your abdomen: these are all tiny things you can do to help the blood flow along. The same is true of lying down in bed – try lying with your feet in the air before getting up in the morning or last thing at night. The same is true of yoga stretches such as downward-facing dog or an outstretched position.
Being mindful of your core is very important. Firstly, straighten your spine. Secondly, the more you strengthen and ‘suck in’ your core, the better. This practice also helps keep you mindful of the very act of breathing itself, which is critical. You simply need to get the oxygen carrier cells as full of oxygen as possible, to avoid muscle spasm and your heart from beating faster. This won’t happen if your core is sloppy and you’re slouchy the whole day.
10. Eat Chocolate
This has to be the easiest – and most pleasant – way of improving circulation. However, you should limit yourself to the low-sugar, dark chocolate variety. Generally, look for chocolate with a cocoa concentration of 70% or higher. That’s because dark chocolate is not only rich in antioxidants, but also in flavonoids which improve blood circulation. When this happens more oxygen is transported throughout the organs.
Dark chocolate works in many ways. The antioxidant properties mean that the blood is purified and that the blood cells themselves can self-repair quickly. Dark chocolate is also linked to increased serotonin and other feel-good chemicals in the brain. This automatically means that the adrenal system is suppressed, so there is no need for increased blood pressure or for the adrenalin to have to be pumped furiously up and down throughout the body. Feeling good begins in the brain, and chocolate goes a long way to establish that.