Blood for Every Limb!
November 16, 2008 10:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for advice on how to improve my circulation.

Hi AskMe! I'm interested in improving my circulation, and I'm hoping the hivemind might have some guidance for me in this matter. I know it is best to consult medical professionals in such matters, but doctors cost a damn sight more than a $5 lifetime membership charge.

Now, with my complete lack of medical knowledge, I reckon the most obvious answer is to increase my cardiovascular exercise. If that's the case, are there any workouts better than others for promoting a strong, healthy blood flow to every part of my body? Like, is jumproping better than cycling or what? I'm looking for specific exercises, if possible.

Are there any supplements or dietary changes that I might try to boost my circulation? How significant a role does hydration play? Any and all information you might have on how to get my blood pumping better is of great interest to me.

Thank you very much.
posted by EatTheWeek to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by troy at 10:26 AM on November 16, 2008

The real question is why do you think you need to improve your circulation? Talking to a doctor is very important if you feel like there is something wrong. Could be blood pressure, could be heart disease, could just be the damn winter. That said:

Cardio is cardio for the most part. Get all your limbs moving and you will get blood pouring into each of your muscles. A little resistance training might do you some good as well.

In the winter I like to eat a lot of spicy food and take a cayenne pepper supplement to keep my feet nice and toasty. It is great for circulation.

Drink lots of water. Lots and lots of water. On days you do no exercise or strenuous activity three liters is recommended by the Mayo Clinic. On days you do exercise be sure to have an extra liter. It is really tough to poison yourself with too much water if your diet is good. So drink away.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:41 AM on November 16, 2008

When my 88 year old father went to the doctor about the circulation problems in his legs, the doctor gave a one word prescription: Walk (i.e. take daily walks of at least 20 minutes to a half hour.)

That said, your question is too vague for you to get good advice here, few if any of us are doctors, and if you have circulation issues, you owe it to yourself to go to a doctor and get a professional opinion ... and quit smoking if you happen to be a smoker.
posted by gudrun at 10:44 AM on November 16, 2008

Response by poster: Let me get a little more specific - basically, it seems like my arms and legs fall "asleep" too often. I'm not sure if blood's reaching all my extremities as well as it ought. Last time I got my blood pressure checked, the nurse said it was normal.

so far, we've got walking, water and spicy food. These are three things I like quite a lot. Any other ideas?
posted by EatTheWeek at 10:59 AM on November 16, 2008

Pushups improve upper body blood flow like no other.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 11:12 AM on November 16, 2008

Do you smoke? I had really poor circulation in my hands and feet when I did.
posted by sunshinesky at 11:14 AM on November 16, 2008

The initial question doesn't give us much to go on: age, weight, sedentary vs. active lifestyle, other health-related considerations. But I would consider the extremities' falling asleep to be a red flag. Do you see a doctor regularly? Does he/she know about this?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 11:25 AM on November 16, 2008

Can you, perhaps, be more specific in your question. That is, are you looking to improve the function of your circulatory system vis a vis the health of your pump (that is, the ability of your heart to move a certain volume of blood per heartbeat), or the health of the pipes (that is, the integrity of your blood vessels), or are you not sure what is the problem.

If you have a pump problem (heart failure), you'd know it because you wouldn't be able to pump blood effectively enough to force the blood from your legs/feet back up to your heart (resulting in swollen ankles), or to sustain your body when exercising (resulting in exercise fatigue and shortness of breath). If you think you have a pump problem, see your doctor.

If you think you have a pipe problem (atherosclerosis), you'd know it by problems in the areas of the body downstream of the blockages, such as pain in the legs (for peripheral vascular disease of the lower extremities) or fainting (when you have blockages in the carotid arteries in the neck leading to poor blood flow to the brain).

Poor circulation due to physical vessel problems (e.g., atherosclerosis) cannot really be remedied via diet, exercise and medication. Rather, if you have a mechanical blockage, most often you need a mechanical solution such as bypass or angioplasty. Poor circulation due to the use of substances that constrict blood vessels (e.g., nicotine) can be remedied by discontinuing the offending substance. Again, if you have consistent symptoms, see your doctor.

That said, if you want to roughly estimate that you have adequate pump function to move blood to your distal extremities, you can check to make sure that your hands/feet aren't cold to the touch, and that they have brisk capillary refill. That is, squeeze the tip of your finger or toe at the nail until the nailbed blanches (turns from pink to white). Then let go and see how fast it takes for the color to return to pink. It should take only 2-3 seconds. That will at least let you know that your able to push blood all the way out to your distal extremities.
posted by scblackman at 11:33 AM on November 16, 2008 [4 favorites]

I would definitely consult a doctor for something like this. Just googling around I found there's a journal put out by American Heart Association called Circulation.

If there's enough info to put out a journal just about Circulation every week it seems then it's probably more complicated that any one AskMe user could diagnose/give you advice.
posted by jourman2 at 11:36 AM on November 16, 2008

You should read this thread and this blog. Because in my experience bad circulation is from clogged arteries not from lack of exercise. So read that blog, change your diet and then get on an exercise program. get your cholesterol and CRP tested. where I live you can have that done at the grocery store by a traveling cardiologist who stops by once a month.
posted by cda at 12:01 PM on November 16, 2008

Response by poster: computech - here's more details.

Male, 29, about 40 lbs overweight, relatively active lifestyle (bicycle commutes, about 3 weekly workouts), no cigarettes but I do smoke some weed on occasion, lots of whole grains, fruits & vegetables in the diet, but there's also the occasional cookie or hamburger as well.

No regular doctor though I do have access to some nurse practitioners at my school's clinic. Looks like I'd better consult them about this, too.

Thanks for the great answers so far, everyone. Please ask if there's any more details that would be helpful to you.
posted by EatTheWeek at 12:40 PM on November 16, 2008

Do you spend a lot of time in one position without moving? When I'm concentrating at work, I will sit very still for long periods of time without noticing, and then when I finally get up, blea! sleepylegs. (or worse, sleeping butt - how the hell can your butt fall asleep? ridiculous) If you spend a lot of time at a computer, make a point of stretching regularly. A little googling will turn up lots of desk-exercises that may be helpful.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:38 PM on November 16, 2008

If 5_13_23_42_69_666 has pegged your problem, then you also should check the ergonomics of your work or study space to make sure desk, chair, computer keyboard and mouse etc. are good ones and configured properly. Also watch out for carpal tunnel, which can affect your arms/hands and give you that falling asleep feeling.

For example, I was waking up with *totally* numb hands, and it turned out I was curling my hands/wrists as I slept and really aggravating my carpal tunnel problems. Sleeping with wrist braces on significantly helped that problem.

Watch out for biking as well, and make sure your bike seat is a good one. Try to make note of when you are having this problem ... only during or after certain activities or inactivity? ... and adjust what you are doing, or upgrade equipment accordingly.
posted by gudrun at 2:59 PM on November 16, 2008

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