Sedentary lifestyles could be bad news for our vein health (Picture: Getty)
We all know that sitting down for hours on end without moving is not great for our health.
But sadly, modern lifestyles often mean we don’t have a lot of choice in the matter.
Maybe you sit in your car or on the train to get to work, then sit at your office desk for the best part of eight hours, before heading home to spend a well-earned evening sitting on the sofa.
Sure, we get up and walk where we can – and try to fit in a few gym sessions – but most of day is spent on our bums, and that is bad news for our leg health.
You might remember when a personal trainer revealed that sitting down all day could lead to ‘sloppy bottom’ – where your bum muscles can stop working effectively. But have you thought about what’s happening in your lower extremities too?
Professor Mark Whiteley is the UK’s leading consultant venous surgeon and founder of The Whiteley Clinic. He says our sedentary lives could be really detrimental to the health of the important veins in our legs.
‘Sitting for extended periods reduces movement of the leg muscles, compromising the blood flow in the leg veins,’ Mark tells Metro.co.uk.
‘The venous blood pools, called “venous stasis”. When venous blood slows down, the blood becomes more acidic and can even clot.
‘The increasing acidity of venous stasis causes inflammation and discomfort in the lower legs.’
If left untreated, Mark says this can even cause swelling and discoloration of the lower legs.
‘When this inflammation causes red marks and itching, it is called venous eczema,’ adds Mark. ‘If the skin goes brown it is called hemosiderin. When the tissue becomes hard and contracted, it is called lipodermatosclerosis (LDS).’
Why too much sitting can be dangerous
Most people are aware that inactivity can lead to blood clots in the veins in the legs. We tend to associate this with long-haul flights – but sitting at your desk all day also increases your risk of a clot as the blood circulation slows down.
Symptoms of a blood clot in your leg include a cramp-like sensation or the skin over the clot may feel warm. But you may not experience any symptoms at all.
‘The more dangerous of these, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) are well-known, although they are actually less common than the superficial sort called superficial vein thrombosis (SVT or more commonly “phlebitis”),’ explains Mark.
In many cases of DVT, Mark says the first warning sign will be an aching and swelling in the lower leg, which gets worse when you move your ankle. However, in some instances, there is only mild swelling or even no obvious symptoms or signs at all.
‘If people are concerned that they have DVT, they should see a specialist straight away for further investigation,’ says Mark. ‘Untreated DVTs can lead to more serious complications such as pulmonary embolism (PE) – which is where the blood clot breaks off and travels in the venous blood, lodging itself in the lungs.’
SVT, or “phlebitis”, is more common and, Mark says, it is much easier to diagnose as it usually presents as hard red lumps that are painful on the legs.
‘In the past, doctors who do not specialise in veins and nurses often recommend antibiotics,’ says Mark. ‘Unfortunately, these have no effect at all on the clots. international guidelines from 2012 show that the correct treatment is to be sent for an urgent ultrasound scan.
‘If the clot is near the deep veins, there is a risk of PE and so the patient needs to be anticoagulated. If it is away from the deep veins, graduated compression stockings and anti-inflammatory tablets are used.
‘Of course, if you already have underlying venous problems such as obvious varicose veins or the more worrying “hidden varicose veins”, a more sedentary lifestyle will increase the risks of worsening symptoms or one of the complications listed above.’
How to improve your leg health
Thankfully, there are many things you can do to help prevent these conditions.
‘It may sound simple, but elevating your legs is highly effective for improving venous circulation,’ says Mark. ‘Raising your legs, when sitting, will help to lower the pressure in your legs by allowing blood that has pooled to drain away, helping to prevent varicose veins and blood clots.
‘Try placing pillows or a footstall underneath your legs to keep them elevated while at home.’
In addition, Mark recommends trying a simple exercise to increase blood flow in the leg muscles:
‘Every half an hour, stand up and pump your calves by rising onto your toes repeatedly for 60 seconds,’ he suggests.
‘Regular exercise and staying active is especially important if you have a sedentary job to improve blood flow and circulation.
‘Low-impact exercises such as yoga are particularly good at improving circulation. The bending and stretching movements involved in the practice help to compress and decompress the blood vessels, which can help to boost circulation.’
If you do have aching or tired legs, Mark says you may need a venous duplex ultrasound to check your veins.
‘However, while at home you can buy graduated pressure stockings from suppliers on the internet.
Even below-knee graduated pressure stockings make the legs feel much better – and can be worn instead of socks.
‘Do make sure that you buy from a reputable supplier and that you supply your correct leg measurements as requested.’
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