Varicose veins are noticeably enlarged veins with a twisted, bulging appearance and a distinguishable color, usually red or blue (but sometimes flesh-colored as well). Their smaller cousin, spider veins, are closer to the surface of the skin and typically look like spider webs or tree branches.
Age is a major contributing risk factor. It’s estimated that more than 50% of those aged 50 or older are showing signs of varicose or spider veins.
Our veins, which return blood to the heart, tend to lose effectiveness as we age. The little valves inside the veins can degrade, allowing blood to reverse course and leak back into the veins to collect there, creating the characteristic visible color and bulging of varicose veins. Spider veins, on the other hand, are due to blood not flowing properly; as blood gets blocked from moving, these veins become highly visible.
Are Varicose Veins and Spider Veins a Sign of Health Problems?
The relationship between varicose veins and spider veins and major health problems is not completely clear.
However, a very recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at the historical medical records of 425,000 patients in Taiwan. The study found that there was a high correlation between those patients who had varicose veins and those who experienced deep vein thrombosis (DVT). A similar, but less significant relationship was found between varicose veins and pulmonary embolism (PE), and peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Given the potential seriousness of these cardiovascular problems, you should see a doctor about your varicose veins if you encounter any of the following issues:
- A varicose vein begins to bleed.
- A varicose vein becomes swollen and warm to the touch.
- The color of the varicose vein changes to red.
- You experience rashes, color changes, or thickening near the ankles.
How can you Prevent Cardiovascular Problems, Such as Varicose Veins?
As we mentioned before, age is a contributing factor for cardiovascular problems, such as varicose veins. Genetics can also play a role. We can’t stop the aging process or change our genes (at least not yet). But we can address some of the other contributing factors.
Minimize Sun Exposure: if you’re fair skinned, use sunscreen or avoid the sun to prevent spider veins, especially on the face.
Pregnancy and Hormonal Changes: Pregnant women sometimes experience temporary varicose veins during their pregnancy. Women on HRT may experience an increased incidence of varicose or spider veins.
Control Your Weight: Maintaining a healthy weight can decrease the pressure on your veins.
Eat a Low Sodium, High Fiber Diet: Reducing salt can reduce swelling while high-fiber foods help reduce constipation, both of which are associated with varicose veins.
Avoid Sedentary Lifestyle at Work or at Home: Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time. Using a Formaspace Sit-to-Stand desk can make this easy to accomplish during the day. Be sure to get up and walk at least every 30 minutes. Avoid crossing legs for extended periods of time, which can restrict blood flow. Choose low shoes over wearing high-heels to increase the movement of blood through calf muscles.
Start an Exercise Program to Improve Your Cardiovascular Health
Whether you are younger or older, in good health, or are experiencing an ongoing health issue or disability, regular exercise and physical activity will help improve your long-term cardiovascular health.
Daily exercise and physical activity can also reduce the risk of developing serious health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Even If you do have a chronic health condition, such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, balance problems or difficulty walking, you can benefit from a personalized exercise program tailored to your needs.
Steps to Take Before Starting an Exercise Program
If you have not been physically active for some time, you should schedule a physical and a consultation with your physician prior to beginning an exercise program to identify any special concerns or risks.
Having a physical can help identify any undetected health issues, which may arise during vigorous exercise as well as establish a current health baseline for evaluating your overall health progress.
Depending on your personal health history, a consultation may include any or all of the following:
identification of specific exercise goals that are appropriate for your present physical condition
recommendations concerning any of your personal health concerns (such as high blood pressure or medications you are currently taking)
ways for diabetics to manage their blood sugar when exercising
advice on exercise during periods of rehabilitation or recovery from surgery or other major health events (such as a heart attack)
safety tips to prevent re-occurrence of past injuries
evaluation of bone density, especially for women over 65 who are at special risk for osteoporosis
review of when to call 911 emergency services if you experience any unexplained symptoms during vigorous exercise (e.g., chest pain or pressure, pain in your joints, dizziness, or excessive shortness of breath)
Developing Your Own Personal Exercise Program
For many individuals, the start of a successful exercise program begins with a diary that logs your current physical activities. Knowing your current habits will make it easier to set new, achievable goals — for today, tomorrow, this week, this year and next year.
You can also confer with your physician who can help you identify exercise goals that are appropriate for your current health and physical activity levels.
Generally speaking, a well-rounded, personal exercise program will include four main categories: flexibility, endurance, strength, and balance.
Four Components of a Balanced Exercise Program
1. Improving Your Flexibility
Stretching or flexibility exercises are an important part of your physical activity program.
Spend about 5 minutes at the beginning of your exercise program to warm up. If you are walking or running, start slowly for the first 5 minutes. If you are swimming, first perform exercises to warm up your arms, shoulders, and legs.
During the middle of your exercise, do some stretching exercises 3 – 5 times. Slowly stretch into the desired position, as far as possible without pain, and hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Relax, breathe, then repeat, trying to stretch farther.
A mild, uncomfortable, “pulling” sensation when stretching is OK. However, if you feel a sharp or stabbing pain, or pain in your joints (either right away or even the next day), you are stretching too much.
Avoid “bouncing” or jerking into position when stretching; this can cause muscles to tighten, possibly leading to an injury. Use slow, steady movements instead.
Avoid “locking” your joints into a fully straight position; keep your joints slightly bent while stretching.
At the end of your routine, you should cool down with slower exercises to gradually return your muscles to rest.
2. Building up Endurance
If you are new to participating in an exercise program, try to build up to at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each day of the week. The exact amount of time recommended will depend on your current level of physical conditioning.
What does sustained ‘moderate-intensity’ mean in practice? A rule of thumb is you should be able to talk during moderate-intensity activity. It will be difficult to talk during vigorous activity.
Brisk walking (4 miles per hour) is a good example of moderate-intensity activity. (Remember to drink fluids even if you don’t sweat.)
At this rate, you should be able to work up to walking three miles in a little over 45 minutes, which is a good goal for a lunchtime exercise break.
Over time, you will be able to increase the intensity or duration, or both.
3. Increasing Your Strength
Weight-bearing exercise (also known as strength training) is recommended for everyone. Women age 65 and older and/or those diagnosed with osteoporosis will especially benefit from lifting weights.
Try to do a 30-minute strength training session of your major muscle groups at least 2 or more days a week. (Avoid training the same major muscle group two days in a row — it’s best to mix up your routines to give them at least a one day of rest before repeating).
Depending on your physical condition, you may start out with 1 or 2-pound weights (or no weight at all). If you can’t lift or push a weight 8 times in a row, it’s too heavy for you and can cause injury. Reduce the amount of weight immediately.
Take 3 seconds to lift or push a weight into place, hold it in position for 1 second, and take another 3 seconds to return to your starting position. Don’t let the weight drop; returning it slowly is very important.
Try to do 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise. Think of this as a goal. If you can’t do that many at first, do as many as you can. You may be able to build up to this goal over time.
Over time, you will want to add more weight to challenge your muscles to get the most benefit from strength exercises.
4. Maintaining Your Balance
Each year, more than 2 million older Americans have fall-related injuries that require a visit to the emergency room.
Balance exercises can help prevent harmful falls, which can lead to serious fractures (including arm, hand, ankle or hip fractures) or even long-term disability.
What are balance exercises?
For many, the choreographed poses practiced in tai chi classes help improve both flexibility and balance.
You can also learn specific balance exercises appropriate for your needs.
If you have balance issues, you can stand next to a chair and practice increasingly challenging poses — such as holding the chair with one hand, then (as you progress) with one finger, then with no hands. As you gain confidence, try the exercises with your eyes closed.
Other balance specific exercises include:
Standing on one foot behind a chair. Hold this position for up to 10 seconds and repeat 10 to 15 times. Then do the same with the other foot. If needed, grasp the chair for balance.
Walking Heel-to-Toe with one foot just in front of the toes of the other foot. (Your heel and toes should touch or almost touch.) Walk for 20 steps. If you are not steady, try this against a wall that you can reach if you need to balance yourself.
Try a slow “balance walk” with your arms extended out to the sides. Focus your eyes at a distance point and walk in a straight line with one foot in front of the other. Pause at each step to raise your back leg for 1 second before proceeding. Repeat for 20 steps for each leg. As you progress, try looking from side to side as you walk, but skip this step if you have inner ear problems.
Balance exercises work well in combination with lower-body strength exercises, such as Back Leg Raises, Side Leg Raises, Knee Curls, and Toe Stands.
Ways to Exercise throughout the Day
Counting Your Steps
Wearable step counters, such as those from Fitbit, can help you keep track of your endurance activity, set goals, and measure progress. You can also increase your steps by using a Formaspace Sit-to-Stand desk, which allows you to move your worksurface from a sitting position to a standing position at the touch of a button.
Most inactive people get fewer than 5,000 steps a day, and some very inactive people get only 2,000 steps a day. Wear the step counter for a few days to see how you’re doing:
If you have fewer than 5,000 steps each day, gradually try to add 3,000 to 4,000 more steps a day.
At about 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day, you’re probably meeting the recommended activity target.
At 10,000 or more steps a day, you can be confident that you’re getting an adequate amount of endurance activity.
If you are achieving 10,000 steps a day comfortably, try for 15,000 steps a day, which would put you in the high-activity group.
You’ll find taking a walk around the building where you work several times a day will not only help clear your head, it will also help you reach your fitness goals.
Over time, you will discover other ways to increase your steps, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking to local shops (or parking further away when driving). Another possibility is taking the time when you go shopping to walk the entire mall or every aisle of the grocery store.
You can also incorporate strength and flexibility training opportunities during the day. Lift your grocery bags up in the air a few times before unloading them into the car or the fridge. Stretch your legs during long conference calls.
How to Stay Motivated
Make exercise a social activity. Enlist a co-worker, friend, or family member. Many people agree that having an “exercise buddy” keeps them going. If you don’t already have an exercise partner, find one by joining a walking club at your local mall or an exercise class at a nearby senior center. Take a walk during lunch with a co-worker. Take a yoga class with a neighbor. You can also use the social media features of fitness and weight loss programs, such as Fitbit and LoseIt to share, encourage, or challenge each other with friendly competitions.
Join a gym or fitness center that’s close to the office or home. You can be active all at once, or break it up into smaller amounts throughout the day. Do more of the activities you already like and know how to do. If you love the outdoors, try biking, fishing, jogging, or hiking. Listen to music or an audiobook while walking, gardening, or raking. Plan a hiking trip to a nearby park.
Try new activities to keep your interest alive. Sign up for dance lessons. Talk to your friends about bowling together once a week. Join a water aerobics class. Save gas by walking to your nearby grocery store.
Review your goals. If you are able, do your activities longer, farther, or harder. If you walk 30 minutes at lunchtime every day, make it 40 minutes. If you only have 30 minutes for lunch, pick up the pace so you’re walking faster and farther in the same amount of time. Try using a pedometer or step counter to track your progress. Seeing the number of steps add up can be great motivation. If you usually swim half a mile, build up to three-quarters of a mile. Use a harder resistance band when you do strength exercises.
Take Health and Safety Precautions when Exercising
Whatever activities you choose, it’s important to stay safe.
Follow these tips to avoid injury or dangerous situations:
When starting an exercise program, begin slowly with low-intensity exercises.
Wait at least 2 hours after eating a large meal before doing strenuous exercise.
Wear appropriate shoes for your activity and comfortable, loose-fitting clothing that allows you to move freely but won’t catch on other objects.
When exercising outdoors, pay attention to your surroundings — consider possible traffic hazards and the weather as well as strangers. It’s safer to go with a friend.
Do not isolate yourself by listening to loud music on headphones. Keep one ear free to hear passing cars, horns, or other people walking or riding their bikes.
When walking, watch out for low-hanging branches and uneven sidewalks. Walk during the day or in well-lit areas at night, and be aware of your surroundings.
Wear a helmet when bicycling. Helmet use has been estimated to reduce the odds of head injury by 50 percent, and the odds of head, face, or neck injury by 33 percent.
Be sure drivers can see you. Wear brightly colored clothing, and if you walk during low-light hours — dusk or dawn — be sure you have reflective material on your jacket or walking shoes. Carry a flashlight or have lights on the front and back of your bicycle.
Take a cell phone, an ID, and health insurance card (if you have one) along with you, especially if you are out exercising alone.
Warm up with low-intensity exercises at the beginning of each exercise session.
Drink water before, during, and after your exercise session. Be sure to drink liquids when doing any activity that makes you sweat. By the time you notice you are thirsty, you probably are already low on fluid. This guideline is important all year round, but it’s especially important in hot weather. Older adults can be affected by heat and cold more than others. In extreme cases, too much heat can cause heat stroke, and very cold temperatures can lead to a dangerous drop in body temperature. If you are going to be outdoors, dress in layers so you can add or remove clothes as needed. When it’s not possible to be outdoors, you may want to try indoor activities.
Stop Exercising if You:
Have pain or pressure in your chest, neck, shoulder, or arm
Feel dizzy or sick to your stomach
Break out in a cold sweat
Have muscle cramps
Feel severe pain in joints, feet, ankles, or legs.