Want the perfect workout program?Take Quiz
Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
Updated On: March 03, 2023 1 Comment
While a lot of people going to the gym want to be vascular, they don’t want to be vascular with varicose veins. What’s the difference between being vascular and having varicose veins? Well, that’s just one topic we’re going to hit when we talk about the best exercises to get rid of varicose veins.
While rarely being an immediate health concern themselves, varicose veins can be a sign of other more serious health concerns. Even when they’re not, varicose veins can simply be unaesthetic. In this article, we will go over:
Now, let’s discuss getting rid of these spider webs.
In order to get rid of varicose veins, we need to make sure you actually have varicose veins. In other words, every vein that you can see doesn’t automatically make it a varicose vein. In fact, most people have at least a couple of visible veins that are merely close to the surface, allowing you to see them. Think about your hand or foot. These are areas where just about everyone can see some blue veins running just under the skin regardless of their body fat percentage. While we’ll get into being vascular down below, just keep that in mind.
Varicose veins are a medical condition when veins that sit close to the skin (superficial veins) enlarge and get twisted. This causes them to protrude out from under the skin and generally occurs on the lower leg. This will cause a person to have what looks like “knots” of veins trying to push their way out. Often, varicose veins won’t actually have color, so it looks like something is just pushing the skin out. At the same time, they can also be blue in color depending on how close to the skin they are.
Varicose veins can occur for a number of reasons. To begin with, varicose veins are more commonly seen in women than in male counterparts. Hereditary factors also seem to play a significant role. Still, these factors just tell us the probability of receiving varicose veins, not that we will get varicose veins. Below are two lists of other factors that can cause varicose veins to develop. We divided these lists into “Life” and “Behavioral” categories. The “Life” list comprises factors that just occur and which we have little control over. The “Behavioral” list includes actions or circumstances which we can change.
With that being said, the leading cause of varicose veins is a condition known as “chronic venous insufficiency” or “venous reflux”. This is a condition in which the veins see improper or inadequate circulation. Therefore, the blood will pool, causing the veins to enlarge and get twisted.
Our circulatory system is primarily made of two vessels, arteries, and veins. Our arteries bring oxygenated blood from the lungs to our muscles to deliver fresh oxygen and nutrients. Once the organs and muscles have stripped that blood of oxygen, veins must then the deoxygenated blood back to the lungs. In order to do this, veins must pump blood up against gravity, so they will use one-way valves to prevent backflow. However, if these valves become damaged and can not close properly, nothing stops the blood from flowing down in between heartbeats. Thus, a portion of the blood is left to pool in the legs. In fact, this unwanted flowing downward is why varicose veins generally occur in the lower legs and not farther up.
The good thing is that varicose veins and venous reflux aren’t too severe IF you correct the cause soon. However, these are chronic conditions that can get worse with time when untreated.
As mentioned above, we need to understand that we are looking at two things here; varicose veins and venous reflux. In reality, varicose veins are actually a symptom of venous reflux. Regardless, the initial symptoms of venous reflux, which include the formation of varicose veins, are mild, and you will likely not notice anything different. However, things can and will get worse if nothing is done to treat your condition. Below are some symptoms that your condition is worsening
One common question concerns the worsening of the condition in both sitting and standing as these are opposite actions. Why would they be the same? Remember, varicose veins occur due to gravity pulling blood down into the lower leg to pool. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if you sit or stand as long you’re not moving. In both of these situations, you are stationary with your legs at the lowest point of your body. This is the perfect (or worse, depending on how you look at it) position for your blood to pool.
That being said, we want to treat varicose veins before we have to worry about any of the above symptoms. Or better yet, prevent varicose veins from ever happening in the first place. Here are the best treatments you can use to keep varicose veins from ever being an issue. Further, we will list BOTH non-exercise and lifestyle treatments as well as give you the best exercises for varicose veins.
Other than exercise, which we’ll discuss below, several proven methods to decrease venous reflux. If you only rely on exercise, you are neglecting a huge amount of time that could be used to improve your condition. Even if you were to train 2 hours a day (which you will definitely not!), you are left with 22 other hours every day! And yes, we are counting your sleeping hours as you can certainly treat varicose veins as you sleep.
Here are the top changes you should make in your life as well as the top habits you should add:
1. Stay Moving:
Remember that one of the most significant factors in forming varicose veins is standing or sitting for too long. Therefore, you want to do the opposite. Perhaps the most critical change you need to make to your lifestyle is to stay moving! To be clear, this does not mean you always need to be exercising, which is why it’s in this category. It does mean limiting the amount of time you remain stationary. For example, if you work at a desk all day; set your timer so that you go for a 5-minute walk at least every hour. You can easily plan to have a water break here and do anything else you need to do. Better yet, you may even be better off if you stand and walk a little every 30 minutes. We understand that this is not always possible, and it’s hard to give a definite ratio, but the main idea is to keep your times of inactivity to a minimum.
2. Keep Your Legs Elevated:
If you do find yourself in a situation where getting up is not possible (or desirable, like when watching a movie!), go ahead and elevate your legs. Keeping your legs raised will send the blood flowing towards your waist rather than your lower legs. Also, remember when we talked about the sleeping thing? This is a great time to “drain” your legs as you’ll be asleep for 6-8 hours (or you should be!). To be clear, this doesn’t mean you need to have your legs straight up. In fact, merely putting your legs on a somewhat sturdy pillow will be enough. Basically, you want your feet to sit above your waist to some degree.
3. Use Compression Socks:
While the legitimacy of compression socks in an athletic population are still up for debate, they are one of the most widely used forms of treatment for varicose veins. Compression socks are thin but made of a strong material that allows them to go over a leg and then squeeze the leg to apply pressure. You are actually “compressing” the area which will apply pressure to the veins causing them to push the blood out.
There are numerous types on the market, but some reviews suggest using a compression sock that uses graduated compression to promote greater flow. It’s recommended to use a class II GCS (graduated compression sock) (study), which consists of 20 to 30 mmHg external compression pressures.
To determine the length of time you wear your compression socks, you will need to factor in several variables, such as the level of your condition and how much you move throughout the day. However, generally speaking, you will wear them during the day upon waking and take them off at night. However, check with a professional if you have questions.
4. Clean Your Diet And Improve Your Body Composition:
Being inactive and having a poor diet is the root of a lot of our problems, or at least exacerbate them. This includes having varicose veins. Obesity can place excessive stress and pressure on our bodies meaning that varicose veins are more likely to occur AND they will heighten the severity of the condition. At the same time, being obese can actually conceal the presence of varicose veins altogether. This means that you may be suffering from venous reflux, but due to the extra layers of fat, you aren’t able to see the varicose veins leaving the condition unchecked.
Regardless, eating a nutritious diet and maintaining a healthy diet is vital for optimal health. It just so happens to also treat venous reflux. Therefore, “getting rid of varicose veins” is just one more reason to start following a healthy lifestyle.
Modifying your lifestyle to meet the needs of the above treatment will greatly impact your varicose veins. That being said, exercise will also play a significant role in controlling your varicose veins. Not only can regular exercise increase blood flow, it will also contribute to burning more calories which can result in more weight loss. That being said, not every type of exercise is suitable for trainees with varicose veins.
Here are the top 5 exercises you can choose from to treat your varicose veins:
Yes! Simple walking is one of the best forms of exercise you can perform to get your blood flowing. That being said, when we say “walking”, we mean to walk with intent. Sure, going for a casual stroll is always a good idea as well, but to really get your blood moving, you need to walk at a brisk pace.
Further, walking is low impact meaning it is suitable for everyone with varicose veins regardless of the level of severity. Remember that more severe cases of varicose veins can elicit painful or “heavy” legs. Neither of these is fun, and higher intensity exercises can exacerbate the pain.
2. Uphill Treadmill:
If you do want to push the intensity but aren’t able to run, uphill treadmill walking is your best friend. You get all of the same benefits of walking, except you get to add the extra intensity. Keep in mind that you are primarily working the posterior muscles when you are “walking up” the hill. Therefore, you can also turn around and walk backward “up the hill” to train your quads more. If you do want to mix it up like this, be sure to hold onto the handrails.
Regardless of if you want to walk normally or backward, the treadmill is an excellent piece of equipment that allows you to easily take a simple task and make it highly challenging. Plus, you don’t need to worry about the weather!
We know that not everyone loves walking. Good thing is that swimming is a fantastic exercise if you’re suffering from varicose veins or not. In other words, you should be swimming if you are able to! It is a true full-body work out while being an exceptional back exercise (have you seen the back of swimmers?) It’s also a very low-impact (basically zero) which is great for recovery days and for those with varicose veins. Again, having varicose veins can be uncomfortable and even painful, depending on the severity. Movements that create excessive pressure or involve pounding (see below) can make for a very unpleasant experience (see below).
Swimming deals with this as you are basically in a weightless environment, making it one of the very best exercises you can do to circulate your blood and relieve pressure from your legs. So while perfect for literally anybody, this could be a great go-to exercise for those who suffer from more severe cases of venous reflux.
4. Cycling (Indoor/Outdoor):
After swimming, cycling is perhaps the next exercise with the lowest amount of impact. While cycling can be extremely intense (anyone who says it’s easy has never climbed a hill), your foot is always in contact with the peddle and moves in a fluid motion meaning there’s never any pounding. Plus, you can choose between doing outdoor cycling or indoor cycling on a stationary bike as the health benefits will be the same!
Again, you can also choose between making it extremely easy with light resistance or really elevate your heart beat with heavier resistance. You can also run different training protocols such as HIIT or Tabata. Regardless, cycling is a sure way to get the blood flowing and help mitigate the effects of venous reflux and varicose veins.
5. Elliptical Machine:
The elliptical machine works in the same manner as a bike, as your feet are always attached to the peddle. Again, this means no pounding. In fact, any type of cardio equipment which does this would be an excellent exercise for those with varicose veins. Further, you also get to use your upper body for a full-body cardio workout with the elliptical machine.
While we listed the best exercises for you if you suffer from varicose veins, there are also a couple you may want to stay away from. While not any specific form of exercise, you should stay away from exercises that demand more exertion or apply too much pressure to the leg.
For example, while walking and treadmill walking are both great modes of exercise, running can cause too heavy of forces to be put on your legs. The constant pounding can really add up and make you never want to exercise again. Let alone, you just won’t be able to get in a significant amount of time anyways.
Another good example would be heavy barbell lifts. Again, this is all dependent on the level of your condition, but basically, the heavier load you use can cause higher forces and internal pressure. The best way to determine if it’s ok or not is to just see if it’s uncomfortable. The main negative consequence of exercising with varicose veins is simply being uncomfortable, so if it doesn’t hurt, you’re likely good to go. If it does hurt, go with one of the exercises we listed above.
To be clear, we love all the barbell lifts and believe they are the best form of resistance training you can do. However, not every exercise is suitable for every person and part of being a good coach is knowing when to modify an exercise program.
There’s really no reason why your exercise schedule should look much different from other trainees assuming you have no discomfort. Ideally, we would like to see a minimum of 30mins of aerobic exercise daily. However, start slow, be mindful of how your legs feel, and learn to listen to your body. If the exercise is becoming uncomfortable, go ahead and stop. Or, you may find relief by switching forms of exercise. Either way, you will need to go at your own pace while also trying to push yourself.
On top of that, a resistance training protocol of at least 2-3 days a week would also go a long way in improving your body composition. These days should be full-body training days where you hit every body part with compound exercises.
Related: Body Recomp Workout & Diet Plan
While definitely not optimal, having varicose veins is definitely no reason to not exercise, and they’re definitely not permanent. But keep in mind that the longer you do nothing about them, the harder it’s going to be to remedy the situation. Therefore, get started today. Right now. When you finish reading this (which is in about 20 seconds), close your computer and go for a walk. Write up a simple game plan to keep you on track with your exercise and lifestyle changes when you come back. And once you do this, continue doing it and your varicose veins will soon be a thing of the past.
Comments will be approved before showing up.
February 20, 2024
February 20, 2024
At SET FOR SET, we strive to equip you with the tools and knowledge needed for your fitness journey. Our team of experts, including certified trainers, dietitians, and athletes, brings over a decade of industry expertise. Our goal is to be your primary resource for all fitness inquiries, guiding you toward a stronger and healthier life. Sign up to stay up-to-date!