Feeling the Pressure: How to Improve Circulation During the Work Day
Work: You can’t live without it, but it can be tough to live with it, given the adverse effects it can have on your health.
There are many work-related causes of poor circulation such as stress, lack of sleep, bad diet, sitting or standing too much and frequent travel. So how do you improve circulation without quitting your job? Fortunately, there are many different steps you can take to combat the ill effects that work can have on your circulation.
Here are 15 strategies to try, from wearing compression socks to staying hydrated.
1. Take breaks and get moving.
At least once an hour, get up from your desk and move around to get the blood flowing, even if it’s just a quick walk to the bathroom or to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. When the weather is nice, it’s a good idea to use at least part of your lunch break to go for a longer walk around the block to really get your blood pumping. Depending on your office layout and how much privacy you have, you can also try exercises at your desk, such as rotating your ankles, raising your legs and squatting or jogging in place.
2. Try out a standing desk.
Ideally, your day will be a combination of sitting, standing and moving around for maximum circulation benefits. If you usually sit at work, a standing desk that can raise and lower will help inject a bit of movement into your day. You’ll still need to take walking breaks — gravity pulls on your blood when you’re standing, after all — but standing will make this easier. For example, you can do calf pumps while you type emails or work on a presentation. If you’d like to take things to the next level (and if you have the space and money), you can look into getting a treadmill desk, which lets you walk while you work.
3. Sit and stand properly.
At one time or another, we’ve all had our feet go numb and fall asleep because we sat on them for too long. Many attribute the feeling of pins and needles to cutting off blood flow, but that’s not actually the source: It’s caused by compressing a nerve. While it’s really hard to totally cut off the blood supply to one part of your body, it is possible to slow it down by sitting and standing with poor posture. To keep this from happening, place your feet about hip distance apart and hold your back and neck straight without slouching. Try to avoid crossing your legs, as this can slow down circulation.
4. Breathe deeply.
Your breath and your blood are intimately connected, as breathing provides oxygen and other essential nutrients that your blood then carries throughout your body. When we’re just sitting around, it’s easy to take short, shallow breaths that make us feel tense and don’t provide us with the maximum amount of oxygen. To break this pattern, think consciously about your inhales and exhales and try to breathe deeply from your stomach (as opposed to your chest) so you’re taking in as much air as possible. If you can, take short breaks throughout the day to practice deep breathing exercises for even greater benefits.
5. Wear compression gear.
Movement isn’t the only way you can boost your circulation during the workday. Compression socks — and compression pantyhose for those who need to wear a dress or skirt — are made of a specially woven material that provides graduated pressure up the leg. This pressure encourages your blood and other fluids to keep flowing back towards your core rather than pooling in your feet and ankles. As an added bonus, pantyhose and compression socks can help prevent lower body swelling and make your legs feel less achy and more energized because better circulation means more nutrients are being delivered more often, and your legs don’t feel as tired.
6. Consider medical dress shoes.
Speaking of foot health, choosing comfortable, supportive shoes is incredibly important to maintaining good circulation at work. Ladies in particular should take note, as wearing high heels forces your foot into an unnatural shape that can impede circulation and cause all sorts of lower body health problems. Instead, both men and women should opt for therapeutic dress shoes with a cushioned sole and plenty of arch support that conforms to their foot’s natural shape. If you need custom inserts, medical shoes with room for orthotics come in many work-appropriate designs such as oxfords and flats. Your circulation doesn’t have to suffer for you to look professional.
7. Choose your outfits carefully.
Compression gear is specially designed so that the tight fabric will promote good circulation, not slow it down. However, regular clothes such as pants and shirts aren’t made to encourage circulation, and if they’re too tight they can actually cut off blood flow. Buy work clothes that fit properly and that are made with loose, breathable fabrics — if you can’t sit down comfortably without your pants cutting into your waist or legs, don’t buy them. Not only will you feel 100 times better, but you’ll be way more comfortable than you were in sweaty, too-small garments.
8. Workout regularly.
Walking breaks are great at work but getting in more intentional exercise either before or after work will also help boost your circulation. Cardiovascular activities such as running, swimming and biking will help your heart become stronger, and it won’t have to work as hard to pump the same amount of blood. Even lifting weights can get your heart rate up, depending on how much you’re lifting and how fast you’re moving through sets. To get these benefits, schedule time to work out either before or after you go into the office. If your workplace is more flexible, you might even be able to go for a more vigorous workout on your lunch break.
9. Eat a healthy diet.
What you eat impacts your entire body, including your circulation. Focus on lean proteins, whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, and try to cut back on the amount of sugars and fats you’re eating. Watch your portions so you don’t overeat, but don’t beat yourself up too much if you overindulge once in a while. Accept that it happened and try to get back on track with your healthy diet. Even the healthiest people cheat on their diets sometimes, and a moderate diet is way better than extremely restricted eating followed by periods of equally extreme bingeing.
10. Stay hydrated.
You know how syrup flows more slowly than water? That’s because syrup is more viscous, or thicker, than good old H20. In fact, if you’re not drinking enough water, your blood can become more viscous as you get dehydrated, which slows down your circulation. The thicker your blood is, the harder your heart has to pump to get it moving, which means your body gets oxygen and nutrients less frequently. If you’re thirsty, that’s your body telling you that you’re on the way to dehydration, so don’t ignore the signs — get drinking! Try to get most of your fluid intake from water, decaf tea and other hydrating liquids while avoiding or limiting liquids that have a dehydrating effect, such as alcohol and caffeine.
11. Stop smoking.
If you do only one thing on the list, it should probably be quitting smoking. You know that smoking increases your risk of lung cancer — but it can also negatively affect your circulation by narrowing blood vessels in the skin, damaging the linings of arteries and decreasing blood flow to extremities. Thankfully, there are many resources available to help you stop smoking, and your doctor should be able to help connect you to them. Quitting may seem like an insurmountable obstacle right now, but 1.3 million smokers do quit each year, and with the right plan and support, you can be one of them this year.
12. Shorten your commute.
In addition to the 8-plus hours we spend sitting at our desks each day, we spend even more time commuting, which usually involves sitting as well, this time in a car. This sedentary time really adds up and cutting down on your commute can really boost your health. Not only will you spend less time sitting, but you can use that extra time to work out or do something else good for your circulation — plus a shorter commute often means less stress. If you live close enough to the office, you can also consider taking a more circulation-friendly form of transportation, such as walking or biking. If that’s not an option, you can still try parking further away from the office or getting off the bus a stop early to squeeze in a bit of extra walking.
13. Manage your stress.
Stress, especially chronic stress, affects many bodily systems, including the cardiovascular system. It can raise your heart rate and blood pressure, as well as increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. If the stress is acute and persistent enough, it can also cause inflammation in the blood vessels. Work is a major source of stress for many people, and while you won’t be able to control all potential stress triggers, you can control your reaction to them. Some of the tips already listed here, such as regular exercise and deep breathing, have been shown to help reduce stress as well as manage circulation.
14. Don’t slack off when you travel.
While many of us see travel as a time to indulge, taking frequent trips for work may find you slacking off on these habits — and you’ll quickly notice health issues cropping up because of it. No matter your mode of transportation, get up every couple of hours to walk and get your circulation going, even if it’s just a quick lap around the airplane cabin. Wear compression socks for travel, especially if your trip is 6 hours or longer, which puts you at greater risk for deep vein thrombosis. And of course, follow a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, and try not to have too many cheat meals while you’re traveling.
15. Watch out for warning signs.
Benjamin Franklin is famous for saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s pretty accurate when it comes to health problems, including circulation. Keep an eye out for minor but persistent symptoms that signal compromised circulation, such as spider and varicose veins and hands and feet that are constantly cold. These symptoms might be nothing more than minor annoyances, but if you don’t take steps to improve your circulation, they can develop into much more severe problems. It’s always better to head off health problems before they become really serious, so focus on boosting your circulation before it ever becomes really bad in the first place.
Just because you have to work doesn’t mean you have to accept its bad effects on your circulation. These 15 tips can get you well on the way to maintaining healthy circulation while you’re on the clock — and if you need to buy any compression gear, the customer service representatives at Ames Walker is always happy to help. Whether you’re looking for the best men’s dress shoes or the perfect pair of compression socks for travel, we’ve got you covered with our wide selection of products.
Kaki Zell - Vice President of Sales, Marketing, eCommerce at Legs-4-Life LLC
Kaki holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Management from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She’s been working in the medical device industry over 11 years and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Greensboro Science Center.