Can Exercise Reverse Bad Circulation?

Jul 8, 2010 by

Taking blood

Hi Emilia,
I have a question for you: Can exercise reverse bad circulation?

Dear Susannah,
The benefits of exercise do not end with improvements in your blood sugar levels.  Remember that almost every complication that plagues diabetic patients, including heart disease, is in some way related to decreased circulation. And although it is true that exercise by itself won’t reverse diabetes complications, when we pair it with an adequate diet, it is a powerful tool to take advantage of. Let us not forget that 80 percent of all diabetics die of a heart attack, so, anything you can do to improve blood circulation is worth the effort. 

Your blood needs to reach every cell in the body

The blood has to cruise through a complex system of arteries, veins, and capillaries to bring nutrients and oxygen to your cells so they don’t die. There are two ways the blood can perform its duties:

  • 1. If the blood is fluid
  • 2. If the blood vessels are large enough to allow the blood to navigate at ease.

Because blood vessels, especially capillaries, are very narrow, the circulatory system works better when the blood is fluid rather than thick. This is a matter of the utmost importance for diabetics because if the level of blood glucose is high, and the person has also high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, the blood becomes thicker and doesn’t navigate as well as it should. The result is that tissues don’t get the necessary nutrients and oxygen and they die; when large portions of tissue in an organ die, the organ may die. I don’t need to tell you what happens when certain organs die.

When we exercise, our muscles need more oxygenated blood. As a result, nature has provided us with a complex system that as we work out, the blood vessels in our muscles dilate allowing a larger flow of blood to deliver more nutrients and oxygen to the working muscles.

Platelets are useful but they can cause problems

Platelets are sticky small particles that prevent excessive bleeding in case of injury. However, although platelets are useful at preventing hemorrhages, they can also work against us as they can stick together and form a clot. Such a clot can get loose and “walk” aimlessly up and down the blood vessels. If the clot moves to a blood vessel that goes to the brain or to the heart, it may cause a stroke or a heart attack. In addition, smaller clots can block the tiny blood vessels that nourish the eyes or the kidneys causing blindness or kidney failure.

A scientific study conducted with insulin-dependant patients by the University of Los Angeles in San Francisco and published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that exercise decreases platelet “stickiness” which in turn improves blood flow. The participants in the study exercise for 30 minutes on the treadmill or the bicycle. A blood sample was taken from the patients before and after exercise. Before exercise, platelets had a 74 percent stickiness factor; after exercising, only 53 percent.

Research findings from Dr. Paul A. Gurbel, a cardiologist and Director of the Sinai Center for Thrombosis Research based at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, indicate that the level of platelet stickiness may be the single largest risk for a heart attack in patients treated with coronary artery stents.

Dr. Gurbel’s findings may explain why a person who has no history of heart problems could die suddenly of a heart attack, while an individual with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and clogged arteries may never have a cardiac episode due to his/her low level ot platelets stickiness.

So, get your sneakers and start walking and exercising your muscles. You will help reverse bad circulation. Let me know if you have any questions. I’ll get back to you soon to talk more about the benefits of diabetes and exercise.

Emilia Klapp, RD, BS
Your Diabetes Coach

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