Improving Blood Flow and the Circulatory System

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Proper blood flow is one of the essential ingredients of a healthy lifestyle. Poor circulation is also one of the most common side effects associated with health conditions like diabetes and heart disease. In this article, we’ll explain why circulation is so important, and how you can take everyday steps to improve your circulation and overall balance and health. We’ll also touch on how healthy light can improve your circulation and keep your blood flowing optimally.

What is the Circulatory System and Why is it Important?

Your circulatory system, or cardiovascular system, is an essential system that delivers oxygen and vital nutrients (like amino acids and electrolytes) across your body through the flow of blood. Your blood transports nutrients, oxygen, and hormones to every cell in your body. [1] At the core of the circulatory system is the heart, which pumps your blood, and the lungs, which provides that blood with oxygen your organs and muscles need to survive and thrive. [1]

The two ‘roadways’ of the circulatory system are the arteries and veins. Arteries carry blood away from the heart, and veins return blood back to the heart. The nourishment your cells receive from regular blood flow helps your body prevent disease, stabilize pH and temperature, and maintain homeostasis, or balance.

Circulation is Crucial for Healing and Processing Inflammation

Healthy blood flow to and from wounds and sites of strain is vital for the body’s natural healing processes. The red blood cells transported to injuries via your circulatory system carry oxygen, which stimulates the creation of new blood vessels and helps to form new skin and tissues at the damaged site. Poor or restricted blood flow can limit the body’s ability to heal from injuries and sometimes leads to chronic wound problems. [2]

Blood flow is also crucial for the body's natural inflammatory response. When our bodies are injured or infected, the circulatory system transports white blood cells to the site. Part of the inflammatory response is the dilation of blood vessels so blood can flow more rapidly to the problem area. [3]

Symptoms of Poor Circulation

It is most common to experience the symptoms of poor circulation in your extremities, like your arms or legs. The most common symptoms related to poor circulation are sensations like tingling, numbness, throbbing, or stinging in your limbs. Pain or muscle cramps can also be a sign of poor circulation. In some men, erectile dysfunction symptoms can also be caused by diminished blood flow. [4]

What Causes Poor Circulation?

Poor circulation is not a specific medical condition in itself, but it’s a common side effect of numerous other medical conditions, like obesity, diabetes, heart conditions, peripheral artery disease, atherosclerosis, and blood clots. Over time, smoking cigarettes and sedentary lifestyle can also weaken circulation. To improve circulation problems, a person ultimately needs to address the underlying causes of weakened blood flow, not just the symptoms.

Here’s a look at some of the most common reasons people start experiencing diminished circulation [4]:

Atherosclerosis: Atherosclerosis is the formation of fatty plaques in the arteries, which makes the passage of blood more difficult. These plaques are known as atheroma and are builded up slowly on the inside of the arteries. In the early stages of its accumulation, the arteries may compensate the plaque buildup by dilating itself in an attempt to preserve blood flow. Eventually, the artery cannot dilate any further, and the atherosclerotic plaque starts to narrow the arterial flow lumen. The effect of restricted arteries is that the amount of blood that reaches your organs and muscles is lower, meaning fewer of the oxygen and nutrients you need. This can diminish your body’s performance across the board. [4]

Diabetes: One of the many complications from diabetes is poor circulation. Diabetes can cause blood vessels in your feet and legs to narrow and harden. It also increases your risk for peripheral artery disease and atherosclerosis. People with diabetes also have a much higher chance of lower limb amputation than those without diabetes, in large part due to circulation complications and overlapping conditions. [5]

Blood Clots: Blood clotting, or coagulation, is an important process that prevents excessive bleeding when a blood vessel is injured. After the injury has healed, your body will naturally dissolve the blood clot without a problem. However, some clots can be formed on the inside of vessels without an obvious injury. These situations can be dangerous, since an abnormal clot that forms in a vein may restrict the return of blood to the heart and can result in pain and swelling as the blood gathers behind the clot. A severe situation is the deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is a type of clot that forms in a major vein of the leg or, less commonly, in the arms, pelvis, or other large veins in the body. In some cases, a clot in a vein may detach from its point of origin and travel through the heart to the lungs where it becomes wedged, preventing adequate blood flow. This is called a pulmonary embolism and can be extremely dangerous [6].

Tips to Improve Your Circulatory System and Blood Flow

Like diet and exercise, circulation is a lifelong health priority. These are a few common practices that can help you keep your blood flowing and help maintain balance in your circulatory system:

Daily Exercise: Moving your body helps get your blood flowing [7]. Activities that increase heart rate will help your body pump and circulate blood, and getting exercise every day will help ward off some of the conditions mentioned above. That doesn’t mean you need to go to the gym or put in a big workout every day. Expand your idea of exercise to include daily movement: taking walks and doing yard work or housework are great ways to get on your feet and get your heart moving. It all starts with getting out of the chair and moving those legs! You can read more about how light supports better exercise, performance, and recovery here.

Less Alcohol & Tobacco: Cutting back on alcohol and tobacco is a great way to improve many areas of your health, including your circulation. Nicotine use alone is one of the leading causes of circulation and arterial problems, and it negatively affects your heart, lungs, and nearly every other organ. [4]

Less Stress: Reducing stress levels is easier said than done, but if you can take steps to balance your mental health, your circulatory system and heart can benefit too [8]. Chronic anxiety and anger can have a negative effect on your heart rate and throw your circulatory system out of whack. Finding practical ways to limit your stress levels can have widespread health benefits.

Healthy Posture: How you carry your body affects your circulation too. Proper posture allows your circulatory system to work unrestricted [9]. This goes beyond slouching and excess sitting, to how you stand, and even the way your feet are positioned. Every aspect of your body’s alignments affects how your blood flows. Think about a garden hose as an analogy: if the hose is full of bends and kinks, the water will flow out at a slower pace. If the hose is straight, water flow will be optimal.

Circulation with Light Therapy

Red light therapy treatments are part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle, and can help support enhanced cellular function. Combined with exercise, nutritious eating, and restful sleep, healthy light intake can have a big impact on improving your circulation.

Red Light Therapy and Circulation: One of the potential benefits of red light therapy is a significant increase in blood circulation following treatment sessions. This indicates tissues are receiving more oxygen and other nutrients that are important for healing. At the same time, light helps the body and circulatory system rid itself of toxic byproducts. [10]

Sleep: Sleep is vital for good health, but lack of sleep can lead to increased plaque build up in the arteries, while good sleep can help to keep your arteries clear and circulating properly. [11]

Inflammation: Inflammation is our body’s natural response to injury and infection, but when inflammation sticks around for too long it can lead to chronic health risks. Red light therapy has been found to help balance inflammation [12], which can lead to increased circulation.

Recovery: When your circulatory system is balanced and working properly, it is easier for your tissues and muscles to recover after damage or strain (like from an injury or a good workout) [13]. Reducing inflammation and increasing circulation are two big ways red light therapy helps improve recovery and healing.

Skin Health: Better circulation is also foundational for rejuvenated, supple skin [14]. Your skin cells need oxygen and nutrients to look and feel their best. The better your circulation, the more vital nutrients your skin gets.

Conclusion: Circulation is Crucial for Good Health

Our circulatory system is vital to our health, and keeping that system balanced and functioning will help ensure a healthy lifestyle and prevent various chronic health conditions. To improve your circulation, try to get regular exercise and eat well, while cutting down on things like smoking and alcohol. Making sure you get healthy light every day will also help support balance and a healthier circulatory system. Light therapy with a Joovv device is one great way to make sure you’re getting enough light and supporting optimal blood flow throughout your body.


Sources and References:


[1] Hall JE, Hall ME. Guyton and Hall textbook of medical physiology e-Book: Elsevier Health Sciences; 2020.

[2] Sen CK. Wound healing essentials: let there be oxygen. Wound repair and regeneration: official publication of the Wound Healing Society [and] the European Tissue Repair Society. 2009.

[3] Bakker EN, Matlung HL, Bonta P, de Vries CJ, van Rooijen N, Vanbavel E. Blood flow-dependent arterial remodelling is facilitated by inflammation but directed by vascular tone. Cardiovasc Res. 2008.

[4] Zemaitis MR, Boll JM, Dreyer MA. Peripheral Arterial Disease. StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. Copyright © 2020, StatPearls Publishing LLC.; 2020

[5] American Diabetes Association. Foot Complications.

[6] American Society of Hematology. Blood Clots.

[7] Garber CE, Blissmer B, Deschenes MR, et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: guidance for prescribing exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise. 2011.

[8] Sinha A, Rahman H, Perera D. Ischaemia without obstructive coronary artery disease: the pathophysiology of microvascular dysfunction. Current opinion in cardiology. 2020.

[9] Credeur DP, Miller SM, Jones R, Stoner L, Dolbow DR, Fryer SM, et al. Impact of Prolonged Sitting on Peripheral and Central Vascular Health. Am J Cardiol. 2019.

[10] Mak MC, Cheing GL. Immediate effects of monochromatic infrared energy on microcirculation in healthy subjects. Photomed Laser Surg. 2012.

[11] Vallat R, Shah VD, Redline S, Attia P, Walker MP. Broken sleep predicts hardened blood vessels. PLoS biology. 2020.

[12] Hamblin MR. Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation. AIMS biophysics. 2017.

[13] Ferraresi C, Huang YY, Hamblin MR. Photobiomodulation in human muscle tissue: an advantage in sports performance? J Biophotonics. 2016.

[14] Avci P, Gupta A, Sadasivam M, Vecchio D, Pam Z, Pam N, et al. Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2013.