How to Increase Blood Flow & Circulation

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If your arms and legs are constantly cold, cramped or numb, it may be a sign that you have poor blood circulation. When the blood doesn't flow well through your body, it invites a host of health problems including heart attack, angina and stroke. There are many ways to increase blood flow -- exercise, diet, medication and surgery -- but before you try to help your heart do its job, it's important to talk to your doctor to plan the best way for you.

A Medical Approach

  • Consider your lifestyle. You may have an increased risk of poor circulation if you smoke, if you have a family history of heart problems, if you have a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle, or if your diet is high in things like saturated fat and cholesterol.

  • Look for the signs. Though some signs of poor circulation are obvious, others are not. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of poor circulation include festering sores on the toes, feet and legs, a change in the color of your legs, hair loss on the legs and changes in your toenails.

  • See your doctor. If you believe you have poor circulation, your doctor can diagnose it by performing a basic physical exam, running blood tests or conducting an angiography. This is a test where the doctor injects dye into your blood vessels, then uses X-ray imaging to track your blood flow.

  • Follow the doctor's orders. There are many causes of poor blood flow, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and blood clots. Your doctor may write you a prescription depending on the cause, or recommend surgery. If you have a blocked blood vessel, your doctor may eliminate it with a tiny balloon (angioplasty) or create a detour around it using a blood vessel from another part of your body (bypass surgery).

A Lifestyle Approach

  • Quit smoking. Smokers run a much higher risk of developing heart disease and peripheral artery disease.

  • Eat healthy. Heart-healthy foods -- raw fruits and vegetables, foods low in cholesterol and saturated fat--may help you improve your circulation. The Mayo Clinic recommends foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids. They include salmon, mackerel, herring, flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil.

  • Exercise. Well-exercised muscles use oxygen efficiently. Your doctor can help you develop an exercise plan appropriate to your age and physical condition, but in general, the Mayo Clinic recommends 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week.

  • Take care of your feet. According to the Mayo Clinic, it's important to wear well-fitting shoes. Support socks may also help increase circulation. Also, take steps to avoid infection -- wash your feet daily, trim the toenails carefully, and don't walk barefoot.

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