Poor circulation in the extremities especially is something that many people have – or are likely to experience at some point in their lives. When your circulatory system is working as it should, it is able to send blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout the body, ensuring that you are both healthy and comfortable. While poor circulation isn’t necessarily life threatening, failure to do something about it could lead to life threatening conditions later. If you suspect that you may be dealing with circulation issues in your lower body extremities, then this article is for you. Read on to find out what causes poor circulation in legs, what groups or people are more likely to be affected by this condition, the ultimate exercise for circulation in legs and much more.
What Is Poor Circulation & Who Is Most Likely To Be Affected By It?
Poor circulation is an issue that occurs when something interferes with your circulatory system, causing it to fail to deliver blood, essential nutrients and oxygen to various parts of the body – but mostly to the legs, feet and toes, arms, as well as the hands and fingers.
While this condition can affect anyone, the persons most likely to experience it include:
- People with arterial issues – especially with arteries that deliver blood to the legs and hands
- People with heart conditions – The heart is what pumps blood which delivers nutrients and oxygen to all parts of the body. If a person has a weak heart or their blood vessels into and out of the heart are blocked, they will end up with a circulation issue.
- Persons suffering from diabetes – High blood glucose levels cause fatty deposits to form inside blood vessels. Over time, these deposits grow in size and end up making the blood vessels narrow and hard, which reduces the amount of blood delivered.
- Smokers – Chemicals in cigarette smoke cause the blood to thicken and form clots inside veins and arteries. It can also lead to atherosclerosis, a condition where plaque builds up inside the arteries.
- Obese persons – Carrying extra weight puts pressure on your arteries, which makes your heart have to work harder to ensure that blood is being delivered all over the body.
- Heavy drinkers – Alcohol also has a dilating effect on the veins, which makes it even more difficult to circulate blood.
Read More: How To Workout Legs At Home With Or Without Weights
What Are Some Symptoms Of Poor Circulation?
Here are some symptoms that could alert you to the need to do some exercises for better circulation in legs.
- Muscle pain or cramps whenever you walk
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities (aka the feeling of pins and needles)
- Cold feet – Low blood flow causes temperature fluctuations which causes the extremities to feel much colder than other parts of the body.
- Swelling of the legs, ankles, or feet – Also known as edema, it occurs when too much fluid is trapped in certain parts of the body – but especially the lower body extremities.
- Skin discolouration – When blood doesn’t reach a specific part of the body, the skin around this part will appear paler than usual.
- Varicose veins (aka bulging veins) – These are often seen in people who spend a lot of time standing, without the relief of walking. Varicose veins are large and twisted which makes it harder for blood to go back up to the heart – and it ends up pooling in your legs and feet. This causes itchiness, swelling, pain and more.
- Leg ulcers – They occur when blood pools in the veins of the legs, which causes swelling beneath the skin (7).
If you usually experience any of the above symptoms, then learning how to improve blood circulation in legs and feet is a great way to find some relief.
Other signs of poor circulation that may not necessarily affect the legs (and other extremities include:
- Cognitive dysfunction – People suffering from poor circulation often find that they struggle with memory loss and have difficulty in concentration (3).
- Gastrointestinal issues like abdominal pains, diarrhea, bloody stools, constipation, and cramping (1).
- Unexplained fatigue (5)
What Causes Bad Circulation In Legs?
Symptoms aside, before attempting any exercises for blood circulation in legs, we must first understand what causes poor circulation to begin with. This knowledge can not only help you avoid any of these issues, but they can also help identify any potential underlying (and perhaps life threatening) issues.
These causes include:
- Damaged veins – Also known as varicose veins, they are usually gnarled, twisted and engorged. This damage makes it hard for blood to move through them which will eventually lead to poor circulation.
- Diabetes – As mentioned above, constantly having high blood glucose levels decreases the elasticity of blood vessels and causes them to narrow, impeding blood flow. Narrow blood vessels are unable to transport blood rich with nutrients and oxygen all over the body, and especially to extremities like hand, legs, feet, toes and fingers.
- Obesity – The extra weight puts extra pressure on the veins which can lead to varicose veins, causes fatty deposits in the blood vessels narrowing them, may lead to diabetes, etc. Obesity is the blueprint for many problems that can eventually cause poor circulation.
- Raynaud’s disease/phenomenon – This is a condition often triggered by anxiety, stress or cold temperatures. Raynaud’s temporarily narrows the blood vessels in your fingers and toes, cutting off circulation. Those suffering from this illness experience skin discolouration as well as numbness, pain, and pins and needles in their fingers and toes. They could also experience these same symptoms in their ears, nose, nipples and lips (6).
- Blood clots – There are a myriad of causes of blood clots like injury, prolonged sitting or bed rest, pregnancy, birth control and other medications, family history, surgery, and much more. These clots can form anywhere – not just the legs – and will either partially or entirely block blood flow
- Tobacco – Smoking tobacco can cause the narrowing of blood vessels, increase plaque buildup, and tissue damage throughout the circulatory system. Not only does this lead to poor circulation but it also increases your risk of major issues like peripheral artery disease, heart attack and stroke (4).
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What Are Some Good Exercises For Bad Circulation In The Legs?
Exercises for poor circulation in legs and feet are the quickest way to find relief when you are experiencing painful or uncomfortable symptoms caused by blood not reaching your extremities. Remember that movement of any kind is the most important thing to help get your blood pumping and moving.
Here are some of the best exercises for circulation that you can easily do in or around your home:
- Walking – When it comes to the question of how to improve blood circulation in legs, walking is the easiest and most effective of all exercises. The action of walking is said to make the muscles in legs relax and contract which squeezes around the large veins in the legs, promoting healthy circulation in more stagnant areas of flow.
Please note that you do not need to start power walking, simply walking at a steady pace will help improve circulation in your legs, feet and all other parts of the body. Try walking at least 30 minutes a day. Not only does it help with blood flow, but it is also important for maintaining a healthy weight, reducing the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer and type 2 diabetes, strengthening bones, improving muscle endurance and energy levels, improving sleep etc. (8).
- Leg Swings – If you cannot manage to go out for a quick walk, then leg swings are the next best thing. They can be done in the house or even in an office space without causing any disturbance to anyone around you.
To do them:
- Stand and find something to hold on to. Ideally use a door frame but the back of a chair also works well.
- Brace your core by pulling your belly button to your spine – remember to breathe.
- Start swinging one leg back and forth. Do not swing too hard that you end up falling over or swaying too much.
- Swing one leg 10 to 15 times before switching to the other leg and repeating the same
Foam Rolling – A foam roller is a lightweight, cylindrical tube made of compressed foam. This roller is often used by gym goers to help relieve muscle pain but it can also be used to improve flexibility and range of motion, improve back pain and even temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite.
In terms of how blood circulation is improved in the legs using this device, the act of massaging your legs with the foam roller applies pressure on muscle and tissues which helps get the blood moving and flowing.
Read More: Sleeping With Legs Elevated: Why And How To Do It
Heel Lifts/raises – To an extent, heel lifts mimic walking and thus work great as exercises for poor circulation in swollen legs and feet. Heel raises are also a super safe exercise for pregnant women who often suffer from swollen legs and feet.
To do them
- Stand behind a chair or in front of a wall. If using a chair, face the back of the chair and hold on to the back for support. However, if using a wall, you can either face it and place your hands on it for support, or face your back to it and lean – whatever feels comfortable to you.
- Keep your feet slightly apart and slowly raise the heels till you are balancing on your tiptoes. Do not bend your knees.
- Hold here for 3 to 5 seconds before slowly lowering the heels back to the floor.
- Do this 10 to 12 times.
- Squats – These are an absolute favorite for anyone who wants to grow both their glute and quads. However, an Instagram worth booty is not all they are good for.
Squats, especially bodyweight squats are often used as a warm up, especially on lower body workout days as they help boost circulation prepping your muscles for what’s to come.
- Yoga – Some great yoga poses for leg circulation include Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani), low lunges, and the chair pose (Utkatasana)
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How To Increase Circulation In Legs Without Standing Up
Sometimes poor circulation strikes during situations where we can stand up and walk or do some quick squats. For people who are bedridden, standing to try and improve circulation is also impossible. If you fit in either of these groups, here are some exercises for circulation in legs while seated or lying down:
Ankle pumps – This works best for someone who is experiencing symptoms in their feet and is especially effective for edema (2).
How to do it
- While sitting or lying down, extend your legs till they are straight in front of you and spread them slightly apart.
- Point your toes up so your soles are flat.
- Pretend you’re pressing down on the gas pedal of a car and point your toes down.
- Hold your toes in this stretch for a brief count of three to five seconds.
- Slowly return your toes so your foot is perpendicular to the floor
Calf stretches – These are often done using a belt or strap but can be done without any equipment.
How to do them
- While lying on your back with your legs extended, lift your right leg straight up and grasp the back of your right calf with both hands.
- Hold here for 30 seconds then slowly lower the leg down.
- Repeat three to five times on the right, then switch sides and repeat.
- Do this as many times as needed
- Ankle rotations – These can be done while sitting or lying down and are quite effective for numbness and tingling in the feet.
How to do them
- Lift one foot slightly off the ground
- Rotate the ankle clockwise 10 times and then counterclockwise 10 times.
- Repeat with the other foot
The Bottom Line
Exercise for circulation in legs is essential for anyone who often experiences poor circulation in their lower body. Doing these exercises is an easy way to get a simple workout in as well as to reduce discomfort caused by low blood flow to the legs, ankles, and feet. While poor circulation could simply be caused by something as simple as standing for too long, we suggest that you speak to your doctor about it, most especially if you experience these symptoms often. Poor circulation could easily be a symptom of a more serious underlying issue that could be life threatening if left unchecked.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- [Disorders of the blood circulation in the gastrointestinal tract] (1977, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Ankle positions and exercise intervals effect on the blood flow velocity in the common femoral vein during ankle pumping exercises (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Cerebral Blood Flow and Cognitive Functioning in a Community-Based, Multi-Ethnic Cohort: The SABRE Study (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- How Smoking Affects the Heart and Blood Vessels (2022, nhlbi.nih.gov)
- Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome have reduced absolute cortical blood flow (2006, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Raynaud’s phenomenon (2023, nhsinform.scot)
- Venous and arterial leg ulcers (2006, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Walking (2022, cdc.gov)