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4th April, 20214 min read

How to improve circulation

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Libby Williams
Last reviewed: 25/03/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Our circulatory systems work around the clock to pump blood, oxygen and nutrients around the body. When blood flow is reduced, we may experience symptoms of poor blood circulation.

Read on to find out how to spot the signs of poor circulation and what you can do to improve it.

Signs of poor circulation

You’ll notice most of the symptoms of poor circulation in your limbs – arms and hands, legs and feet. Signs of poor circulation to look out for include:

  • coldness
  • numbness
  • hair loss on your legs and feet
  • a blue tinge to your skin
  • dry or cracked skin
  • brittle nails
  • slow healing
  • erectile dysfunction

When to see a doctor

If you have any of the above symptoms of poor circulation, see your doctor. They’ll be able to confirm if you do have poor circulation, work out the cause and suggest the best treatment or medication.

What causes circulation problems?

Poor circulation is not a condition in itself but can be caused by other health issues and conditions, such as:

  • low blood pressure
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • heart conditions
  • conditions affecting the arteries or veins such as peripheral artery disease (PAD), high cholesterol and varicose veins

Poor circulation can also be caused by lack of movement and exercise.

How to improve blood circulation

If you have poor circulation, there are a number of things you can do to ease symptoms and improve blood flow around the body:

Move more

Movement is one of the most effective ways to increase blood flow and improve circulation. This applies to all levels of activity – you can stretch in bed, give yoga a try, go on a short walk or a long jog.

Eat a balanced diet

We know that eating well helps maintain a healthy mind and body. You may want to add some specific foods to your diet that are believed to be good for increasing blood flow, including cayenne pepper, beetroot, oily fish, berries, pomegranate, garlic, walnuts, grapes, turmeric, citrus fruits and spinach.

Stay hydrated

An adult body is made up of up to 60% water. Staying hydrated is important for keeping the body’s key functions working, including the circulatory system. Aim to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day to help improve blood flow.

In addition to water, it’s suggested that green tea may help boost circulation due to its antioxidant properties.

Have massages

Advice suggests that a professional massage may help boost circulation, as well as reduce stress and help with relaxation. You can also massage your legs and arms yourself to help with circulation.

Stop smoking

Smoking is known to make circulation worse. Nicotine, the active ingredient in cigarettes, damages artery walls and thickens the blood. This makes it more difficult for blood to travel around the body and may worsen symptoms of poor circulation.

Elevate and compress your legs

To help circulation and reduce swelling in the legs, it’s a good idea to keep them elevated when you can. If possible, keep your legs above your heart – use a blanket or pillows to lift them up at night or whenever you’re lying down.

Wearing compression stockings also helps improve circulation and can reduce swelling and pain. They range from mild to extra firm compression, so it’s worth asking your doctor which ones would work best for you.

Key points

  • you’ll notice most of the symptoms of poor circulation in your arms and legs
  • there are several ways you can treat and manage poor circulation yourself
  • poor circulation is caused by other health issues and conditions
  • you should consult your doctor if you have symptoms of poor circulation
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