About 60% of people in the United States (and millions more around the world) suffer from vein abnormalities like varicose veins. These are blue, swollen veins that bulge and twist right below the surface of the skin. They are hereditary, but often become worse during hormonal changes like menopause and pregnancy. Certain occupations that require long periods of sitting or standing also put you at risk for developing varicose veins.
Varicose veins are generally harmless, but they do kind of cramp your style. You may feel self-conscious about wearing shorts, or moan how your once-flawless hands now look like the gnarly roots of an old tree. Here are some ways to avoid, or minimize the appearance, of varicose veins.
1. Keep moving
It’s important not to stay in one position for long periods. If you have a desk job that requires you to sit for several hours, take a break every 30 minutes just to stretch your legs. If you are standing in line, keep your knees slightly bent. Or, if you work at a counter and stand for the whole day, keep a foot stool next to you. Prop one foot on it, and then switch to the other after five minutes.
2. Manage your weight.
One of the biggest causes of varicose veins is improper circulation. If you are overweight, your body has difficulty pumping blood efficiently. Ask your doctor about your ideal weight (given your height, body type and lifestyle) and get into an exercise and diet program.
3. Enjoy regular foot massages.
Now this is a tip most people will want to follow! The massage improves blood circulation—and really helps treat foot fatigue. You can have it done at a spa (and make it part of your weekly pampering routine) or do it at home. To make this extra relaxing, use a peppermint lotion or a deep-moisturing lotion that helps prevent callouses, too.
4. Prop up your feet.
After a long day, when you lie down in bed and get ready to sleep, position several pillow right below your feet. Ideally your feet should be higher than your chest. This will also improve blood circulation.
5. Control your salt and alcohol intake.
Well, alcohol’s bad for you for many reasons, but in this case, it dilates your veins and causes too much blood to flow to your legs and feet (leading to swelling and bulging). Salt, on the other hand, worsens the situation because of water retention and tissue swelling.
6. Invest in good support.
Support hose is one of the best ways of preventing and treating varicose veins. It helps facilitate the proper flow of your blood, keeping it from pooling in your feet and legs.
7. Do regular leg exercises.
These exercises are easy to do, and if done at least every other day, can help prevent the formation of varicose veins. Start with squats, where you slowly lower your bottom (the same movement you take when sitting down in a chair). Hold this position for approximately three seconds, and return to a standing position.
For calf raises, stand next to a wall (it will help give you support). Keep your legs straight, and then tiptoe, raising one ball of your foot. Then, lower your foot (but still keep it a little above the ground). Repeat 10 times and then turn around so you can perform the exercise with your other leg.
Leg lifts also help. Just sit on the floor, your legs stretched in front of you. Raise each leg, then rotate your ankles while making sure that your leg is straight. Do this ten times with each leg, before switching to another.
You may also want to try this exercise, called “pedaling.” You simply lie on the floor, your hands right under your bottom. Then, raise your feet and, literally, pedal—the same movement you make while riding a bike. This can also help tone your abdomen!
You may want to do these exercises twice a day—once in the morning, and once at night. You can alternate your routines so you don’t get bored. Some of these, like the calf raise, can even be done at the office, or while you’re doing housework. Even a busy mom can squeeze in about 10 repetitions in the kitchen while dinner simmers on the stove.
8. Tiptoe, tiptoe, tiptoe!
This is actually considered an exercise but it is so simple and unobtrusive you can do this any time of the day. Just…tiptoe! This helps stretch your calf muscles. Do this periodically while walking around the house.
9. Wear heels sometimes
Yes, that’s right. Stable, short heels can help strengthen your calf muscle. Look for a wide heel (not a kitten heel or a stiletto) of about one or two inches. Just make sure that the shoes have appropriate cushioning and are in the right size, because shoes that are too tight can cut off circulation.