Exercise and Circulation Keeping the Blood Moving

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This article was edited and updated on December 6, 2021

The Circulatory System: Vital to your Health

The circulatory or cardiovascular system moves blood — which carries food and waste — to or away from the body. The heart is the centre of this system. This is the route it follows:

Because your veins have to overcome gravity, returning blood to your heart from your feet and legs is hard work. The muscles in your lower legs and feet essentially push the blood back up to your heart. As we age, the one-way valves in the veins (which usually prevent blood from falling back down) become weaker and leak, resulting in blood "pooling" in the ankles and feet, causing swelling.

How can you increase circulation?

It is believed that exercise can do the following:

Why is it so important to get more oxygen into our body?

As we improve our ability to transport and use oxygen, we will have less fatigue for daily activities. This is even more true for those who have an illness or disease where exercise capacity is already lower than for others.

There is evidence that "exercise training improves the capacity of the blood vessels to dilate in response to exercise or hormones, consistent with better vascular wall function and an improved ability to provide oxygen to the muscles during exercise. Studies measuring muscular strength and flexibility before and after exercise programs suggest that there are improvements in bone health and ability to perform daily activities, as well as a lower likelihood of developing back pain and of disability, particularly in older age groups."

What exercises will help circulation?

One exercise session is not enough. But the effect of "continued moderate exercise" when combined with other lifestyle modifications can be, according to Dr. Jonathan M. Myers, "dramatic." 2

"Many studies documenting the benefits of exercise typically use programs consisting of 30 to 60 minutes of continuous exercise 3 days per week at an intensity corresponding to 60% to 75% of the individual’s heart rate reserve. Most researchers estimate that as much as a 30% to 40% reduction in cardiovascular events is possible if most Americans were simply to meet the government recommendations for activity."

From Dry Myers' article: "One need not be a marathon runner or an elite athlete to derive significant benefits from physical activity. In fact, the Surgeon General’s physical activity recommendations seem surprisingly modest. One reason for this is that the greatest gains in terms of mortality are achieved when an individual goes from being sedentary to becoming moderately active. Studies show that less is gained when an individual goes from being moderately active to very active."

Here are some suggested activities to help improve your circulation:

A simple tennis ball can help with hand exercises. (Photo by Susan Ingraham)

This article is part of a series about various health conditions and the benefits of exercise. The other articles are:

I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.

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  1. These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. ↩︎

  2. The quotations in this article come from an article by Dr. Jonathan Myers, Ph.D.. The article is sponsored by the American Heart Association and is titled "Cardiology Patient Page: Exercise and Cardiovascular Health." ↩︎