Does your watch remind you to stand every hour? Is your step counter set to 10,000 steps? Does your doctor tell you to walk / exercise at least 30 minutes a day? There has been a lot of chatter around movement and rightfully so. We know that moving our body is required to be healthy: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually but I’m here to walk through (pun intended :)) why this is so important on a cellular level.
The very vital job of the heart (and circulatory system) is to pump (circulate) blood through your heart, veins and arteries to provide oxygen and nutrients to your body. Blood transports oxygen and nutrients by traveling through the arteries and delivering them to other parts of the body. The heart acts as a powerful pump that generates the force necessary to move the blood around the circulatory system. The arteries carry blood from the heart to the lungs, where it is oxygenated, and then to the organs. Veins return the blood to the heart. The goal of this process is to ensure there is enough room in our arteries and veins for blood to flow freely allowing nutrients to be used efficiently.
All nutrients are circulated through our body but there are very specific nutrients that aid in this circulation:
- Vitamin B3: reduces inflammation and LDL
- Iron: aids in the production of hemoglobin (carries oxygen in the blood) and creates connective tissue, including the tissue in blood vessels that control blood pressure
- Omega-3 fatty acids: shown to decrease atherosclerosis and reduce inflammation
When you're sitting for prolonged periods of time, whole-body blood flow isn't optimal. Over time, this can affect cardiovascular health outcomes. The most common problem with the circulatory system today is coronary heart disease (also called coronary artery disease). Coronary heart disease is caused by the buildup of cholesterol and other material, called plaque, in the arteries. Over time the plaque grows thicker, and the arteries become narrower. As the arteries narrow, they cannot carry as much blood to the organs. The decrease in oxygenated blood can lead to many health concerns.
However, with all predicaments, come solutions. There are several ways to help circulate oxygen through your body to not only maintain but improve organ function:
- Walking / stretching
o Ankle / wrist rotations
o Ankle pumps (heel / toe lifts, either seated or standing)
o Knee flexion / extension (seated or standing)
- Meditation: proven to improve blood circulation in the brain especially in the anterior cortex and insula
o Yoga flow
- Quit smoking / vaping
o Green tea: protects your endothelial lining (the thin membrane that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels)
o Black tea: improves gut microbiome allowing us to absorb nutrients more effectively and also dilates blood vessels for increased circulation
o Omega-3 fatty acids: contain anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that help curb plaque buildup inside blood vessels, helping with blood flow
§ Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring)
§ Nuts (walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans)
§ Seeds (flax, chia, hemp, pumpkin)
o Cruciferous vegetables: contain glucosinolates which help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Research found that for every 10 extra grams of cruciferous vegetables consumed per day, there was a 0.8 percent reduction in average thickness of carotid artery wall
o Nitrates (different then nitrites): convert to nitric oxide which acts a vasodilator
§ Beets have the most abundant nitrates
§ Spinach, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard are also rich in naturally occurring nitrates
o Herbs: reduce inflammation and may also exhibit blood-thinning potential. They contain minerals that aid in circulation: magnesium, chromium, zinc
o Water: aids in digestion, detoxifies, carries nutrients through blood vessels, normalizes blood pressure, regulates temperature, maintains electrolyte balance which all help improve circulation
§ Warm water is particularly beneficial as it encourages the veins to expand, thus allowing more room for blood to flow.
Without a doubt, our circulatory system is one of the most important systems in our body. It is also one that we tend to overlook. Reducing inflammation through food, exercise, sleep hygiene and stress management will significantly help increase circulation leading to many more years of quality life.
Beneficial Health Effects of Glucosinolates-Derived Isothiocyanates on Cardiovascular and Neurodegenerative Diseases. Ramla Muhammad Kamal, Ahmad Faizal Abdull Razis, [...], and Sébastien Rigaud. Feb. 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8838317/
How To Support Healthy Circulation On A Daily Basis. Podcast with William Li, M.D., https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/how-to-support-healthy-circulation-daily
Short-term meditation increases blood flow in anterior cingulate cortex and insula. Yi-Yuan Tang, Qilin Lu, [...], and Michael I. Posner. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4341506/