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Flex your leg muscles to keep your heart healthy 
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Flex your leg muscles to keep your heart healthy 

Lower leg muscles, especially calves and quadriceps, could have a direct impact on your heart health  
Research says that healthy leg muscles, especially calves and quadriceps, could translate into better heart health.
Leg exercises help improve blood circulation and heart health, say doctors. (Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K / Happiest Health)

Want to keep your heart hale and healthy? Make sure you flex your calf and thigh muscles during the next workout session.

The reason: at the end of the day, the heart is a fist-sized muscle that contracts and expands to pump oxygenated blood across the body to keep it ticking. And the muscles in the lower limbs play a major role in ensuring that you have uninterrupted blood circulation.

It is also why the leg veins, along with the calf and quadricep muscles, are collectively often called ‘the second heart’ which is equally important in ensuring proper blood flow in the body.


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Leg muscles and blood circulation

While the heart pumps oxygenated blood from the lungs to various organs and cells across the body, it is this network of veins and muscles in the limbs that pushes back the deoxygenated blood back to the heart and lungs to complete the closed loop of blood circulation that keeps you alive.

“Quadriceps are in fact large muscles and an indirect marker for good heart health,” says Dr Haresh G Mehta, director, cardiology, SL Raheja Hospital, Fortis, Mahim, Mumbai. He adds that good lower limb muscles, especially quadriceps, are also an indicator of better cardiac output leading to better absorption of oxygenated blood by various organs and cells in the body.

Quadriceps, a group of muscles located in the front of the thighs, mainly consist of four muscles extending from the pelvis down to the knee cap.

Dr Mehta says that having good leg muscles — especially quadriceps and calves — also means that the concerned individual has an active lifestyle with adequate physical activity.

“Regular exertion and workout of leg muscles, including calves, helps to lower peripheral vascular resistance, which in turn reduces the stress on the heart while pumping blood,” says Dr Sunil Kumar S, consultant, interventional cardiology, Manipal Hospitals, Hebbal, Bengaluru. He adds that lower-limb workouts could also result in muscular contractions leading to dilation of blood vessels, which makes it easier for blood to circulate across the body.

Dr Srinivasa Prasad BV, consultant, interventional cardiology, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru, says at least 30 minutes of leg exercises could considerably improve blood circulation and heart health. He adds that people with better leg muscles have lesser chances of developing conditions like veinous thrombosis which lead to clot formation due to impaired blood circulation in the lower limbs.

Quadricep strength and recurring heart attack risk

At a scientific congress organised by the European Society of Cardiology in Prague in May 2023, one of the main presentations was on the link between heart attack and leg strength, including in predicting the recurring risk in heart attack survivors.

According to the researchers, maximal quadriceps strength was taken as an indicator of the leg strength of 932 people hospitalised after heart attack (with or without prior heart disease) between 2007 and 2020. Their quadriceps strength was measured and categorised into high- and low-strength groups, and it was found that those with high quadriceps strength level had 41% less risk of developing heart failure.

The lead author of the study, Kensuke Ueno, a physical therapist at the Kitasato University Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Sagamihara, Japan, said in a press release. “Our study indicates that quadriceps strength could help to identify patients at a higher risk of developing heart failure after myocardial infarction who could then receive more intense surveillance.”.

The press release adds that these findings need to be confirmed in other studies, despite strength training of quadriceps being a highly recommended workout method for cardiac patients.

Anti-gravity leg muscles and blood circulation

The lower leg muscles are also termed anti-gravity muscles since they must work against gravity to push blood upwards from the leg towards the heart and lungs to get oxygenated and to be circulated across the body.

“If the leg muscles are strong, especially your calf muscles, then it would help to prevent blood pooling in your legs and improve blood flow from your legs back to your heart,” says Dr Babu George, consultant, orthopedic and sports medicine, Welcare Hospital, Kochi. “This will considerably improve your circulation.”

He adds that good leg muscles will also ensure there is a lesser chance of getting varicose veins and related complications. “Good leg muscles are definitely a marker for overall health altogether and helps to improve mobility also,” says Dr George.

Dr Sunil Kumar points out that generally exercise is good for cardiac health, and having healthy leg muscles means that the individual has an active lifestyle and a higher chance of being healthy.

“The lower leg muscles, especially quadriceps, have also played a major role in human evolution — right from the apes to the present state, from crawling and moving around to standing upright on our feet,” Dr Mehta adds.

Rajeesh Kumar, a Kochi-based health coach and certified diabetes and fitness expert, says overall workout sessions at the gym are recommended for beginners initially. Then specialised workout sessions are slowly prescribed depending on individual conditions.

“Ideally, I would recommend two days of leg and lower-body training every week,” he adds. “It not only improves circulation but also your overall stamina, power and mobility.”

Takeaways

Healthy leg muscles, especially calves and quadriceps, could translate into better heart health, according to research. It has been found that calves and quadriceps play a major role in pumping deoxygenated blood back to the heart and improving overall blood circulation. It is one of the reasons why these muscles and veins in the lower limbs are collectively called the second heart. Experts recommend at least two days of leg-muscle training at the gym every week.

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