Chances are you’re familiar with the frustrating and volatile nature of tummy rolls, wobbly thighs, and love handles. Many women want to reduce these trouble spots but report little or no success, despite strict diet and exercise. And it’s a problem that only seems to get worse as birthdays go by. But now, research has uncovered the culprit affecting many women over 40: age-related slowdowns in circulation.
Why poor circulation affects your ability to lose weight
Think of the body’s circulatory system like the plumbing pipes in your home. When functioning optimally, blood vessels form a network of spacious tubes that can easily pump blood where it needs to go. But as we get older, our blood vessels tend to get smaller and weaker, says Jam Heskett, MD, author of The path of the well. To blame: Cellular inflammation and plaque buildup, which damage blood vessels just like corrosion and food particle buildup damage the pipes under the sink. (This is why varicose veins form.) In effect, the diameter of the blood vessels will shrink, and when that happens, we have less blood flow, explains Dr. Heskett. Our dense network of large pipes becomes a meager plumbing system full of clogs.
Why this is a problem for weight-loss efforts: Weakened circulation can keep your body from burning fat. As Dr. Heskett explains, when the body feels the need for energy (say, to fuel a walk around the block), fat cells release fatty acids. These fatty acids then need to be carried in the bloodstream and transported to the muscles and organs that need to be fed. But when circulation is weak, the fatty acids will simply sit in the space between cells and surrounding blood vessels, says Dr. Heskett. With nowhere to go, those fatty acids eventually end up getting sucked into your fat cells. And meanwhile, the body hasn’t been getting the energy it needs, so it takes energy from other places that will destroy your muscles. This gives the body an energy boost, but it also pulls us Deeper into a fat trap, as the loss of calorie-burning lean muscle mass leads to metabolic slowdowns.
Tricky issues for women: Areas where we tend to store fat (belly, hips, and thighs) don’t have a robust network of blood vessels, so it’s naturally more difficult for the body to access fat in these areas so it can be burned . for fuel. And because blood vessels narrow with age, these spots can become nearly impossible to burn.
Exercises that can help you overcome poor circulation
Fortunately, it AND You can boost circulation and potentially speed up weight loss. The button? Walk the right way. To lose inches, you have to release the contents of the fat cell AND it sweeps out fatty acids in the circulation for use by the body, says Dr. Heskett. And you can do this by interspersing an easy, moderately paced walk (which stimulates blood flow and stimulates the release of fatty acids) with a few short bursts of high-intensity movement. Short periods of enhanced effort increase the release of fatty acids, as well as get the circulation pumping vigorously so that those fatty acids are carried into the bloodstream. Increasing your pace also strengthens your blood vessels and improves their ability to expand and contract, leading to a healthier circulatory system, so your body can easily access stubborn fat stores long after your walk is over.
Once circulation has been boosted, you may find it easier to lose weight. In fact, one study found that women who completed three 30-minute brisk walks and two slower walks a week lost more body fat than women who walked five days a week at a slow pace. And because blood vessels also carry oxygen and toning hormones to your organs, improving circulation offers a number of health benefits.
Note: Poor circulation could be a sign of a disease, such as diabetes, which can make it difficult to stick with an exercise regimen. Consult your doctor before trying these forms of exercise.
Like taking a walk that stimulates circulation
Circulation-boosting walks can help you melt fat from stubborn trouble spots, and it’s surprisingly easy to do. You don’t have to strain like a maniac, promises Jam Heskett, MD. Instead, he simply alternates moderate-pace walks with a few short bursts of high-intensity activity. It can be anything that gets your heart rate up, says Dr. Heskett. You could walk up a flight of stairs, do a couple of jumping jacks, or break a jump rope.
To start, walk at a relaxed pace for 10 minutes. Then alternate between walking for four minutes at an intensity of five out of 10 (where you can breathe normally and hold a conversation easily) and walking, jogging, or jumping for 30 seconds at an intensity of eight or nine (where you’re mildly wheezy and sweating). Do four reps or 18 minutes, then relax at an easy pace for five minutes. Repeat three to four times a week. And to potentially lose weight faster, incorporate the following circulation-boosting techniques before, during, and after your walk:
Down a glass of H20 first.
Most people wait to drink water while exercising, but if you’re dehydrated, your circulation will be less abundant. Imagine a trickle through a drain pipe versus an overflowing gutter, says Dr. Heskett. He explains that blood is 90% water, and without sufficient hydration, blood volume decreases. This forces the heart to work harder to circulate blood through the body. And you don’t have to be severely dehydrated to feel the negative effects: Research shows that even a slight decrease in the body’s normal water volume can lead to fatigue and decreased performance during exercise. To avoid this: “Drink 8 ounces of fluid 15 minutes before your walk,” advises Dr. Heskett. “This ensures that your body has the fluids to function optimally.
Practice birthday candle breaths.
The last thing you want to do while exercising is hold your breath, says Dr. Heskett. This is because deep inhalations work to oxygenate the blood, as well as act as a pump to stimulate blood movement through the circulatory system. To prepare yourself for successful breathing, Dr. Heskett recommends taking a few deep breaths before embarking on your walk: Take a deep breath in through your nose, then imagine blowing out the candles as you exhale, pursing your lips and contracting your belly to draw it out. until the last breath of air. Repeat five to 10 times. This will strengthen your diaphragm to allow you to take deeper breaths as you walk, it will also engage your deep tissue transverse abdominal muscles to help tone your lower belly.
Take a hot and cold shower.
My favorite thing to do when I finish a workout is take a hot and cold shower, shares Dr. Heskett. Hot water opens blood vessels and cold water narrows them, so you’re exercising the blood vessels. The floating state really gives the body a sense of pumping in both directions, making it incredible for your circulation. To get the benefits, turn the water as hot as you can tolerate, then switch it to as cold as you can stand.
Dry brush toxins.
After your walk or before you shower, Dr. Heskett suggests dry brushing your skin with a soft-bristled body brush (like Healthy Beauty Dry Skin Body Brush Buy from Amazon, $5. 99). Dry brushing gets blood flowing throughout the body and sweeps away toxins that are generated throughout the day, he explains. It also stimulates the lymphatic system, exfoliates, improves skin tone, and aids in kidney and digestive function. To do: Take short, slow strokes with the brush across your body, from your feet to your shoulders. For maximum benefits, drink a large glass of water immediately after brushing to help the body flush out any toxins that have been removed.
Switch to compression stockings.
Swapping your regular socks or sweatshirts for compression garments during exercise can improve circulation, says Dr. Heskett. While adherent tissue doesn’t necessarily lead to more weight loss, it does create pressure in blood vessels that increases blood flow. One brand to try: CompressionZ Compression Pants (Buy from Amazon, sizes Small to 6 XL, $34.99).
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your doctor before pursuing any treatment plan.
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A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First for women.
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