Varicose veins – those blue, twisting, enlarged veins on your legs or ankles – are not only unsightly, but they can be painful as well. That's especially true for athletes, professionals to weekend warriors alike, with symptoms ranging from aching legs and muscle cramps to a sensation of heaviness in the legs [source: Health911].
With one out of four people experiencing some form of leg vein disorder in their lifetime [source: VeinMedic], varicose veins are also a common occurrence (roughly 25 million Americans are affected). The condition can be found anywhere, but occurs most often in the legs, and is typically caused when the valves that keep blood flowing to your heart weaken and stop working correctly.
Though varicose veins are believed to be hereditary, people who are overweight, pregnant, who stand or sit still for long periods of time or are going through hormonal changes, are more prone to the condition, since these situations all cause increased pressure on leg veins. Even tight-fitting clothing, including shoes, can be the culprit, as circulation can be compromised. Older folks are also prone to varicose veins, as the blood vessels in the legs expand and lose their natural elasticity [source: Health911].
Fortunately, regular exercise is one way to prevent varicose veins. But can exercise make any difference – good or bad – once you have them? The answer depends on the type of exercise you pursue. You need to be careful not to overexert when you have varicose veins, since strenuous activities can put too much strain on your legs. High-impact exercises like running and intense jumping aren't usually recommended, because they may aggravate vein swelling.
Other exercises, however, will allow you to keep fit and enhance blood circulation. Moderate, low- or non-impact exercises can be effective both as a deterrent and a treatment. Simple exercises like taking daily walks and flexing your ankles and calf muscles can help ease the symptoms and may keep the varicose veins from getting worse [source: WebMD]. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. Cycling is another excellent low-impact exercise. To put it simply, keep your legs and feet moving whenever you can.
While sitting down, flex your calf muscles and rotate your ankles to maintain blood flow. These light calisthenics work because they increase blood circulation, preventing undue pressure from building up. Avoid crossing your legs for long periods of time, and adjust your position frequently, getting up to stretch every 30 minutes or so [source: Mayo Clinic]. Likewise, if you need to stand, do heel raises several times an hour to promote circulation. And when you have the chance, such as sitting down for your favorite TV show at the end of the day, elevate your feet to ease the pressure in your legs [source: Health911].
Exercising won't remove varicose veins, but it can help ease some uncomfortable symptoms. Exercising regularly will keep your veins and legs strong, which is a preventive measure as well as a treatment. The main rule of thumb if you have varicose veins is to be wary of overexerting your legs, but keep yourself mobile and active whenever possible.
If you're pregnant or your work requires you to be on your feet for long periods of time, considering wearing support hose or socks in addition to moderate exercise. These elastic hose will also helps the venous blood return from your legs [source: NetDoctor]. And remember, even if you have existing varicose veins surgically removed, your lifestyle choices – including exercise – will help determine if the condition persists [source: CardioSmart]
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