Circulation is the process whereby our hearts pump blood around our bodies, around 2,000 gallons of blood per day in fact. Combined, the heart, blood and blood vessels make up our cardiovascular system, so when thinking about how to improve circulation there are many ways we can influence the health of this vital system with diet, exercise and small lifestyle changes.
Keeping our circulation in good health is essential for our bodies to function, because the process supplies our organs with oxygen and nutrients. It also helps heal wounds faster, keeps our brains ticking, and our bodies working healthily. Improving circulation can also help to improve the appearance of varicose veins and even give you a more glowing and youthful complexion!
We've spoken to various experts to find out their best advice for keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy, along with the benefits of these 10 simple lifestyle changes that can help to improve your blood circulation.
1.) Monitoring your blood pressure
One way to improve circulation is by keeping an eye on your blood pressure at home. Being aware of it and incorporating lifestyle changes can help to lower it. Secondly, monitoring your blood pressure will allow you to be vigilant for signs of hypertension or other circulatory issues. You can purchase a home blood pressure monitor at your local pharmacy, or even invest in a blood pressure watch.
Pharmacist Thorrun Govind says that all adults over the age of 40 should have their blood pressure checked at least every five years. “Ideal blood pressure is usually considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg, while the target for people over the age of 80 years old is below 150/90mmHg, or 145/85mmHg if taken at home.”
By frequently checking your blood pressure, you can help promote better circulation and reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications later on.
2.) Stopping smoking
According to the NHS, cigarette tar contains poisons, which thicken your blood and increase the risk of blood clots. Smoking also increases blood pressure and heart rate, as well as narrowing your arteries and subsequently reducing the amount of oxygen rich-blood arriving to your organs.
If this is a habit you want to kick, the good news is that your body can make a comeback. When you quit smoking, your blood vessels start to repair, enhancing circulation and improving oxygen delivery to tissues throughout your body.
3.) Drinking more water
Water makes up around 60% of our body weight. It’s a necessity for the health and function of every cell, tissue and organ.
Doctor Evelyn Huang says to “think of your body as a series of pipes. Your heart is the pump, and your arteries and veins are the pipes that carry blood to feed the rest of your body.”
“If you are dehydrated, then your pipes will not be full, and you will not get nutrients to all of the parts of your body. Drinking water can fill the tank and increase circulation in your body so that all of your organs are getting what they need.”
It’s most important for those of older ages, children and people with chronic illnesses drink enough water, as they’re most at risk from dehydration.
4.) Taking up Yoga
Yoga is an accessible form of exercise, especially in its lighter forms which focus on stretching, meditation and breathwork. There are many tutorials online if you'd rather give it a go at home or if you want to try Yoga for beginners to ease yourself into it.
Yoga Teacher Bayu Prihandito says many postures stimulate blood flow. “For instance, the downward-facing dog pose encourages blood circulation to the brain, while seated twists wring out the internal organs, facilitating the exchange of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood.”
Bayu adds that breathwork has health benefits when it comes to circulation too: “Techniques like Kapalabhati (skull-shining breath) stimulate the circulatory system, enhancing the oxygen flow to the body's cells.”
5.) Incorporating more plants and less meat into your diet
It doesn’t have to happen overnight, but trying out high protein vegetarian meals and gradually introducing more and more foods into your diet which provide fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can lead to a healthier circulatory system.
According to Holistic Healthcare Practitioner Julius Cermak, consuming fibre-rich foods such as whole grains, fruit, vegetables and legumes, “can help to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease, improving overall circulation.”
Julius notes that there are certain “circulation-boosting foods” such as garlic, ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper, fatty fish or chia seeds. Meanwhile, healthy fats from the likes of avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil improve cholesterol levels and increase blood flow by helping to dilate your blood vessels.
On the other hand, reducing the amount of saturated and trans fats found in fatty meats and processed foods can reduce arterial plaque build-up. “If you choose to consume meat, opt for lean cuts and smaller portions,” Julius says, “and consider plant-based alternatives to meat such as tofu, tempeh, legumes and quinoa.”
6.) Using standing desks
You might be wondering how to improve circulation in your legs and feet, especially if you sit at a desk all day, either working or trying out your latest craft project.
Prolonged sitting can lead to poor circulation in the legs and feet, but using a standing desk encourages better blood flow and reduces the risk of developing blood clots, promoting overall cardiovascular health.
Some places of work have begun incorporating sending desks or providing standing desk converters into the office to ease back pain and other health benefits, and if you’re working from home, it might be worth fashioning one or taking on crafts and hobbies at a standing desk.
7.) Increasing exercise
The NHS advises that, regardless of age, there is evidence to demonstrate that physical activity can help people to fulfil a healthier and happier living standard. The more you get moving, by walking, running, cycling, swimming or pedalling, the more you take in oxygen and get your blood pumping.
In our modern age of public transport, working from home, office work and watching television, we live a very sedentary lifestyle and inactivity has been labelled a “silent killer” by the Department of Health and Social Care.
The NHS suggests all adults up to the age of 64 should spread exercise evenly over four-five days a week, including strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) on at least two days a week. For adults aged 65 and over, the NHS suggests aiming to be physically active every day, even if it's just light activity that improves strength, balance and flexibility.
8.) Brushing your body
That’s right. It’s not just your hair that needs self-care. Brushing your dry skin one a day, before getting in the shower, can stimulate the lymphatic system and improve circulation.
Invest in a body brush which has stiff, flat bristles. Begin with your feet, as this is often a problem area when it comes to how to improve circulation, and work your way up the body. On the belly and back, make circles and on your legs and arms, create long motions.
9.) Using compression socks
If you’re wanting to know how to improve circulation in your legs, another method is investing in a pair of compression socks. It’s possible for your GP to prescribe compression socks, should you have varicose veins or a condition named lymphoedema.
NHS GP, Doctor Dave Nichols, says “compression socks or stockings are specially designed to apply pressure to your legs, which in turn helps to maintain blood flow.”
“There are various types and sizes of compression stockings that can be used so we would suggest having your legs measured to work out what size you will need. There are some medical conditions that affect your legs such as varicose veins which may specifically form stockings and so we would suggest speaking with a doctor before starting to wear them.”
10.) Drinking tea
Green tea and black tea are rich in antioxidants and promote good blood circulation and overall cardiovascular health.
According to a review on cardiovascular health and disease published in May last year, habitual green tea drinking was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, research on tea consumption and it's health benefits published in September last year concluded that higher black tea consumption was also associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular diseases.
Elena Angelides is a freelance journalist who has written across a broad range of subjects, with articles published by National Geographic, The Guardian, VICE, Refinery29, iNews, Reader’s Digest, GLAMOUR, Paste Magazine, heat and Closer.