Walking is good exercise for just about every part of the body, especially the arms, legs, and cardiovascular system. Oftentimes you'll even see articles or promotional websites encouraging walking as a great exercise to help widen the veins. The only danger in this is misunderstanding the difference between varicose veins and peripheral arterial disease, two of most common vascular conditions. In light of this, rather than asking whether or not walking is sufficient exercise to widen the veins, one must ask if widening the veins is really the issue.
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Understanding the difference between varicose veins and peripheral arterial disease (PAD) could mean the difference between life and death. Varicose veins, while they do require some amount of medical attention, are not immediately life-threatening. PAD can be life-threatening under certain circumstances, including excessive exercise. Knowing how your veins and arteries operate, especially in relation to walking, is important if you show any symptoms of the disease.
How does walking effect varicose veins?
Contrary to what many people believe, varicose veins are not caused by vein constriction in the legs. In fact, it's just the opposite. Varicose veins have dilated, or widened, because of the breakdown of the vein walls that naturally occurs with age.
As a vein widens on its own, blood can pool inside it and cause further dilation. That's why you see the purple and blue color normally associated with the disease. With varicose veins, moderate walking is always a good exercise to keep blood flowing, but it will do nothing to increase or decrease the size of the veins.
Walking helps varicose veins by increasing blood flow and reducing the amount of blood that pools. The reduced blood pooling can lower blood pressure, reduce swelling in the veins, and prevent further weakening of the vein tissue. However, you should only walk until you begin to experience leg pain, at which time you should sit down and elevate your legs.
Combining compression stockings with moderate walking is a very effective treatment for varicose veins. While the exercise increases blood flow, the compression stockings will help keep the veins from further dilation that could make the condition worse.
How does walking effect peripheral arterial disease?
PAD is a disease which causes narrowing of the arteries. It can be brought by a variety of things and is common in diabetics, those with high cholesterol levels, and in patients with other specific conditions. Those suffering from PAD are at increased risk for blood clots, embolisms, and stroke. PAD is a serious disease which needs to be treated cautiously, especially when it comes to exercise.
Patients who suffer from this disease should be very careful when using walking as a regular exercise program. Being the farthest appendages from the heart, the legs are usually the place where PAD complications rear their ugly heads. Excess walking can cause blood clots in the upper legs, which could then lead to more serious issues. PED sufferers should sit down and elevate their legs at the first sign of leg pain.
Is widening of the veins even possible through walking?
In theory, the improved blood circulation and the more efficient metabolism that results from walking could help to widen veins that have been narrowed by disease. In reality, the minimal amount of vein widening that could be accomplished makes it practically indistinguishable. Walking, or any exercise for that matter, is more important in helping other things, which could then make the effects of narrowing arteries and veins less of an issue.
The best way to ensure the health of your veins and arteries is to get proper nutrition, avoid smoking and excessive alcohol, refrain from illicit drugs, and pay attention to the warning signs of possible cardiovascular disease. Moderate exercise, like walking, will be a contributing factor to an overall healthy lifestyle. In other words, if the rest of your body is healthy there's no reason to believe your cardiovascular system won't be.
You commonly read in these types of articles about the need to consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program. This is especially true if you suffer any symptoms of varicose veins or PAD. If you want to start walking to improve your health, let your doctor know what your goals are and what you're planning. He will be able to guide you through any potential pitfalls.
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