Your circulatory system, or cardiovascular system, plays an essential role in keeping you alive. At its centre is your heart, which pumps blood around your body through a network of arteries, veins and other smaller blood vessels. This circulatory system is responsible for delivering vital oxygen, hormones and nutrients to the cells and organs of your body.
But there are a number of issues that can prevent the system from working as it should. These can lead to poor circulation, or even heart and cardiovascular diseases.
The good news is that there are ways you can help protect yourself quickly and for the long-term. One way to do this is through physical activity. In this article, Taylor Clark, Physiologist, explores some common circulation issues and explains how exercise can help boost your cardiovascular health.
What causes poor circulation?
Poor circulation can be caused by a number of different issues. Some are more serious than others and they can affect different areas of the body. They include:
Arteries are ‘furred up’ by plaques filled with fatty substances, such as cholesterol, which build-up on the inside of your arteries.
This narrows and hardens the arteries and makes your blood flow less efficiently – causing chest pain when you exert yourself. Over time, this can become more serious and lead to coronary heart disease, a heart attack or stroke.
Our blood is designed to clot in case of external injury, but we can also develop blood clots (where the blood becomes more gel-like or semi-solid) that restrict the internal flow of blood.
Clots can be caused by the same plaque that furs up the arteries, with obesity and smoking for example being risk factors. They can also occur if you don’t move for long periods of time.
High levels of blood sugar can cause damage to smaller blood vessels, often in our extremities – legs, arms, feet and hands.
This, in turn, causes problems with the circulation, which is why one of the symptoms to look out for with diabetes is having numb or cold hands and feet.
These are damaged and swollen veins, usually in the legs. They don’t move blood around as well as other veins, and can be caused by old age, obesity, smoking, pregnancy and long periods of standing.
Diabetes, heart disease, blood clots, varicose veins. Obesity can cause all of these issues and more, which means that it’s one of the main causes of poor circulation and other health issues that affect the heart.
If you experience any of the symptoms described above, you should visit your GP for a firm diagnosis and to discuss next steps if appropriate.