You’ve heard the phrase: sitting is the new smoking. While this might sound dramatic, consider this; the body is made to move. Yet as society has evolved, for many of us, work is now quite stationary, often with prolonged periods of sitting, especially with more people working remotely. This might seem more comfortable, but it’s definitely not better for our bodies or our minds. So, what’s the harm in sitting?
Studies validate the need to be active, showing that a sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, age-related frailty and cancer. Unfortunately, I also treat the effects of an inactive lifestyle each day in my practice, since it also puts people at risk for chronic venous insufficiency, peripheral vascular disease, vascular blot clots and other diseases.
The Calf Muscle Pump
While inactivity puts individuals at risk, exercise can help in the treatment of these same venous disorders. Physical activity is crucial because the muscular and circulatory systems work cooperatively.
Here’s why: while arteries pump oxygenated blood away from the heart at relatively high pressures (120/80 mmHg), veins collect and transport de-oxygenated blood back to the heart at relatively low pressures (5–15 mmHg). That’s why your calf muscles play a crucial role in pumping the blood from your feet and legs at ground-level upwards to your heart some four feet above.
As the calf muscle flexes, it forces blood against gravity up along the course of the veins, which are lined with one-way valves that catch the blood as it travels, preventing it from flowing backward. Normal, efficient calf muscles will pump 70 percent of the blood out of our calves as we walk. The relationship is evident: the more efficient the muscles, the more efficient the blood flow, and vice versa.
Let’s Get Physical
The good news is that you can overcome the harm in sitting with activity. For people with venous insufficiency, healthy musculature is crucial, and physical activity can help without the need to start an onerous workout regime. The simple act of getting up to walk engages your leg muscles, loosens back muscles, and promotes blood flow that increases concentration and work productivity.
If you aren’t able to get up, walk around and stretch regularly, in-chair exercises can also be helpful. One study investigated 10 in-chair exercises most commonly recommended by airlines and found that exercises requiring the heel to be raised caused the greatest calf-muscle pump activation.
We created a series of six short videos that demonstrate the heel-lift and other simple movements you can perform while seated or standing to pump your calf muscles. We also offer more information and other activities you can try to add movement throughout your day.
If you are struggling to stay active due to venous insufficiency and leg pain, swelling, cramping and heaviness, contact us to schedule a consultation. We offer a range of effective treatment options that will have your legs looking and feeling better so you can get back to living an active lifestyle.