Why is circulation important?
Reduces swollen feet and ankles
Circulation is the word used to describe the constant movement of blood around the body, made possible by the pumping action of the heart. This movement or ‘flow’ of blood takes place in a network of tubes known as blood vessels. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart, while veins are blood vessels that carry blood towards it.
Returning blood to the heart from lower parts of the body (such as the feet and legs) is hard work for the circulation, because this blood has to be pushed uphill. The circulation therefore needs help from muscles that surround veins. When we walk, for example, muscles in our feet and legs help to pump blood upwards, in the same way as you would squeeze liquid along a tube.
Circulation can deteriorate as we get older, but circulation problems can affect anyone who isn’t as active as they might be, whatever their age. Symptoms of poorer circulation include things like cold hands and feet, muscle cramps and tired, ‘heavy’ or aching legs. We can improve our circulation by taking more exercise and eating a circulation-friendly diet.
Facts about circulation
Average adult has 4-6 litres of blood
Blood is very important because it carries and delivers many things that the body needs to stay well.
Arteries carry blood from the heart
Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxgenated blood away from your heart to the legs, arms and other parts of the body allowing your muscles to work.
Veins carry the used blood back to the heart
Veins carry the used blood back to your heart. Returning blood to the heart from the feet and legs, is very difficult as blood has to be pushed ‘uphill’ back to the heart.
Your legs act as a second heart
Returning blood to the heart from lower parts of the body, such as the feet and legs, is hard work for your circulation because the blood has to be pushed ‘uphill’. To do this, the circulation needs help from muscles that surround the veins. When we walk, muscles in the feet and legs help to pump blood upwards. The more the muscles work the greater the squeezing action and the easier it is to push blood back to the heart. In effect, muscles in areas such as the feet and legs work as your ‘second heart’.
A wide range of medical conditions can affect circulation. These include:
- Diabetes a complex condition that can affect many parts of your body and may result in reduced feeling in the feet.
- High blood pressure also called ‘hypertension’ – is a condition in which blood being pumped through the body places too much pressure on the arteries causing damage.
As we grow older, we are often less active than we used to be. This, combined with the general ‘wear and tear’ of aging, can cause the circulation to work less effectively than it once did.
Diet and Tobacco
An unhealthy diet can lead to the arteries becoming clogged up with fatty substances – a condition called ‘atherosclerosis’. Affected arteries narrow and harden, which stops blood from flowing through them as well as it normally would.
Tobacco harms the circulation in many ways, including narrowing blood vessels in the skin, so blood can’t flow as easily, damaging the lining of arteries, making them more likely to clog up with fatty substances and reducing blood flow to the fingers and toes (i.e. the parts of the body furthest away from the heart).
As we walk, muscles in the lower legs and feet operate like a pump, pushing blood back up to the heart. If we don’t move for a prolonged period of time (especially if we are sitting down), this can lead to pooling of blood in the legs, which in turn can cause swelling, stiffness and discomfort.
What affects your circulation?
Symptoms of poorer circulation
- When experiencing poorer circulation there are some simple symptoms that can be recognised. Below are some of the symptoms you may experience:
- Pain in legs and feet
- Swollen ankles and feet