To keep your circulatory system healthy, it can be useful to know a few things that are damaging to it. Here, I discuss some things that can cause circulatory issues; plus, I offer tips to manage these concerns.
Louise Baillie S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3 @ActiveLouise Ask Louise
10 August 2020
What can harm the circulatory system?
The circulatory system is compromised of the heart, blood vessels, arteries and veins. It keeps blood flowing through the body and our organs working at their optimum.
Some factors that can harm circulation are:
Sitting/standing too much
Too much alcohol
Let's look at these in a little more detail and get some tips for keeping the circulatory system healthy.
1. Unhealthy meals
We bang on about eating a healthy diet all the time here at A.Vogel, so this time I'll just focus on a few particular foods and dietary issues that are problematic for circulation.
Salt is a big one because it can contribute to high blood pressure which, if left unmanaged, is a risk factor for heart-related problems.
It is recommended that adults consume no more than a teaspoon (about 6g) of salt every day. Most people, however, go over this amount by consuming foods high in salt, such as ham, sauces, ready meals and bacon. According to research by Action on Salt, the average salt content of 100g of bacon is 3.21g – that's more than half your daily allowance in one meal!1
So, watch out for the salt content on labels when doing your supermarket shop, and use a healthier alternative such as Herbamare to flavour your favourite homecooked meals.
Another issue to be wary of is low vegetable and fruit intake. Failing to get enough in your diet will mean that the body does not receive sufficient vitamins and minerals which we know to be very good for circulation. Magnesium, which is found in spinach and avocado, for example, can boost blood circulation and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.2
Poor sleep is thought to increase the possibility of developing cardiovascular problems3, though the reasons for this aren't entirely clear.
One suggestion is that lack of sleep, either due to stress or long-term problems like insomnia, can increase blood pressure and inflammation. In contrast, during periods of long, deep restorative sleep, the body produces chemicals that lower blood pressure and inflammation.
Sleep problems are complicated, but fortunately, there are many strategies that have a positive effect on sleep. Keep working at it, as it will have so many positive effects once you've got it sorted.
First of all, I would suggest you set a regular sleep pattern and avoid using technology after 8 pm, as this is known to keep us awake. As well as this, you could try a gentle herbal remedy such as Dormeasan Sleep to help restore natural sleep.
If stress has you waking in the night, for reasons just mentioned, this will likely have an impact on your circulatory system. Also, as stress effectively puts the body into a state of high alert, it can contribute to high blood pressure and an increased heart rate.
If you are struggling with stress, you may find the advice in the following blogs helpful:
Around 1 in 4 adults in the UK have a bodyweight that is considered to be obese.4 This has major implications for the circulatory system.
It becomes harder to pump blood around the body, for example, when excess weight causes fatty deposits to line the artery walls. This problem is known as atherosclerosis and can increase the chance of going on to develop cardiovascular problems, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Weight management may need to be overseen by a doctor, personal trainer or practitioner; however, some general tips include:
Cut down your portion size
Exercise for around 2 hours and 30 minutes a week
Cook from whole ingredients
Don't eat when distracted by screens (of any sort) or at work. This is proven to make you eat more (and be unaware you've done so!).
Smoking is another factor that is damaging for circulation:
It can contribute to atherosclerosis
It's a risk factor for CVD
It increases heart rate
It raises the chance of developing problems such as a heart attack or stroke.
These problems can arise as a result of the carbon monoxide and nicotine found in cigarettes. These put extra strain on the heart, meaning it must work harder and pump faster than usual. Other chemicals found in cigarettes may also clog up the arteries.
Altogether, this means that smoking doubles the risk of having a heart attack.
Meanwhile, the impact of e-cigarettes on circulatory and heart health is less definitive – it is a topic that needs more research.
If you need help to stop smoking, please consult your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
6. Sitting/standing too much
Unfortunately, sitting or standing for long periods of time are both problematic for circulation.
When sitting, it becomes harder to pump blood around the body, particularly if we adopt awkward positions where our legs/feet/arms are crossed!
Standing, on the other hand, makes it equally difficult for blood to circulate as it simply has to defy gravity in order to head upwards! This can be a big factor when it comes to the development of varicose veins.
Inactivity makes it easier to pile on the pounds, which in itself is a risk factor for some major circulatory conditions, as I have already discussed. However, exercise is also very good for getting the blood pumping round the body and so if we don't do it often enough, circulation can be hindered.
In the long term, inactivity is connected with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and serious heart problems like strokes. This is because it can contribute to the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries which carry blood to the organs.
My Self-Care Tip: Key exercise advice for beginners
Are you looking to set out on a new exercise plan? Watch my video below for my top tips to help on your way to a more active lifestyle!
8. Too much alcohol
Guidelines state that we should not consume more than 14 units of alcohol per week. Drinking more than this on a regular basis poses issues for our health.
It can cause an overall drop in blood pressure as the blood vessels relax and more blood is pumped through the body. It also increases heart rate as the body tries to maintain sufficient blood flow to the organs.
This too can contribute to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular problems.
To manage your alcohol intake, it is important to know your limits. 14 units, the weekly recommended amount, equates to 6 pints of beer or 6 medium glasses of wine.
Last but not least, be wary of too much caffeine.
Drinking less coffee has been associated with lower blood pressure5, whilst energy drinks have been shown to make the heart work harder than usual as contractions become more forceful.6
The impact of this long term includes increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate and palpitations.
Try herbal teas or a coffee substitute such as Bambu if you need to cut down your coffee intake!