As we enter into what feels like the thousandth week of quarantine, one thing is for sure….it’s harder to stay active right now. With most of us sheltering in place, exercise isn’t exactly our number one priority. Our stress levels might be a little higher, we might be thinking about our families, our jobs, the state of the world…the list goes on. To add to that, we are surrounded by the comforts of home, and our gyms and fitness studios may still be closed. This increase in sedentary behavior can take a toll on our fitness goals, our mood, and importantly, our circulatory system. So why does our circulatory system matter so much? Let’s take a look.
Your Circulatory System
The circulatory system is made up of vessels and muscles that help control the flow of blood around the body. The main components of this system are the heart, arteries, capillaries, and veins.1 The circulatory system does a very important job in your body. Not only does it keep your cells healthy, but it essentially keeps you alive. The heart constantly receives signals from the rest of the body that direct how hard it needs to pump to properly supply the body with what it needs. For example, when we sleep, the body sends electrical signals to the heart that tells it to slow down. And when we engage in heavy exercise, the heart receives the message to pump harder to deliver extra oxygen to the muscles.2 Let’s take a closer look at some of the main components of your circulatory system.
The heart is the key organ in the circulatory system. As a hollow, muscular pump, its main function is to propel blood throughout the body. It usually beats from 60 to 100 times per minute, but it can go much faster when it needs to. It beats about 100,000 times a day, and more than 30 million times per year.3
Blood vessels carrying blood away from the heart are called arteries. They are the thickest blood vessels, with muscular walls that contract to keep the blood moving away from the heart through the body.
Artery walls have three layers:4
- The endothelium: Provides a smooth lining for blood to flow over as it moves through the artery.
- The media: is the middle part of the artery, made up of muscle and elastic tissue.
- The adventitia: is the tough covering that protects the outside of the artery.
Blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart are called veins. They are not as muscular as arteries, but they contain valves that prevent blood from flowing backward. Veins have the same three layers that arteries do, but they are thinner and less flexible.
Now that we have taken a closer look at what makes up your circulatory system, what are some common conditions that can affect the health of your circulatory system?
Common Circulatory System Conditions
Atherosclerosis happens when plaque builds up along the walls of your arteries. Risk factors that can contribute to plaque buildup include: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tobacco use, diabetes, an unhealthy diet, and low levels of physical activity. This condition can also gradually make the arteries narrower, affecting the amount of blood that can flow through them. Because of this, organs and tissues may not get enough oxygen.5
High Blood Pressure
Your blood pressure is the force that your blood exerts on the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps. High blood pressure can eventually damage your heart and blood vessels, as well as other organs like your brain, kidneys, and eyes.6
A blood clot can happen when blood coagulates or clumps together to form a gel-like mass. This clot can get stuck in a blood vessel where it blocks the flow of blood. Blood clots can cause things like heart attacks, stroke, deep vein thrombosis, and even a pulmonary embolism.6
Healthy Circulation Action Plan
To improve the health and performance of your circulatory system, there are several lifestyle changes you will need to consider making, with the most important change being diet.
Your diet has a significant effect upon the overall health and wellness of your circulatory system. Foods that can negatively impact vascular health are those with large quantities of saturated and trans fats. Saturated fat is most commonly found in animal products, while trans fats occur in processed foods. Steer clear of fried foods, and foods made with partially hydrogenated oils, which contain trans fats.
Eat more fruits and vegetables! Fruits and veggies contain many nutrients that benefits the circulatory system, like fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. Fun fact – vitamin C provides structural support for your blood vessel walls, protecting you from ruptures that impede healthy blood circulation.7 Try and up your potassium, too. Potassium plays a role in every heartbeat. A hundred thousand times a day, potassium helps trigger your heart to squeeze blood through your body.
Another food group to incorporate more in your diet are monounsaturated fats. These fats can help to reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood, which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Oils rich in monounsaturated fats also contribute vitamin E in your diet, an antioxidant that is beneficial to circulatory health. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include: olive oil, avocados, sunflower seed butter, almond butter, and many nuts and seeds.8
Beyond your diet, which is one of the most important areas of focus in terms of circulatory health, there are also a few other things you should pay attention to:
- If you work at a desk, take regular breaks every hour to walk around for a few minutes.
- Rent an exercise dvd that features resistance exercises that use your own body weight.
- If painful joints make traditional exercise difficult, try doing something low impact like swimming.
- Take steps to stop smoking. Tobacco use is the most detrimental thing you can do to your circulatory system.
Herbs and Supplements that Can Help
The right supplement can also help if you’ve been diagnosed with or are at a high risk of atherosclerosis or some other circulatory problem. We recommend finding a supplement containing Aged Garlic Extract (AGE), Vitamin E, Hawthorn Berry, and Cayenne Pepper, which have all been shown to help maintain healthy circulation, overall heart health, and can also improve cholesterol levels.9
Aged Garlic Extract: AGE may have the single biggest impact on heart health of any known dietary supplement. Research suggests that it supports healthy blood pressure and reduces oxidized LDL cholesterol levels, lowers homocysteine levels (a common amino acid found in the blood that in high levels, increases risk of developing heart disease), and improves the elasticity of blood vessel walls.10
Hawthorn Berry: Hawthorn Berry is well known for the cardiac benefits it provides, including improved coronary artery blood flow, as well as improved blood flow to the extremeties.11
Cayenne Pepper: Research shows that ingesting cayenne pepper can increase circulation, improve blood vessel strength, and reduce plaque buildup in your arteries.12
Vitamin E: This fav-soluble vitamin, which the vast majority of us fall short on, helps support healthy circulation. It does this by helping thin your blood. Try aiming for 800 IE per day.13
So even though you may still be sheltering in place at home, you can still take steps to improve the state of your circulatory system.