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January 21, 2019

When things move too slowly, it's bad for economy and your health

Kenya's David Lekuta Rudisha.
Kenya's David Lekuta Rudisha.

Kenyans are consumed with speed but in different directions. We laud our athletes for their speed and they make it look so easy and effortless. One of the images of the just concluded Commonwealth games was a child trying to run alongside the competitors in the women’s marathon race. Quickly he realised that they move along very quickly.

Elite marathon athletes run the 26-mile race in just over two hours. At that speed they cover each mile in under five minutes. Drive in a car in Nairobi and you will be a happy person if you can do better than this average speed during the daytime. Get out of the city and try and drive to another town and various obstructions are placed on roads to slow down vehicles to crawling speeds, somewhat in contradiction of the purpose of a paved road to provide a quick and safe way to move from town to town. Government policy demands that vehicles especially commercial vehicles move slowly. An adverse effect of this policy of slowing everyone down is that given the increased journey times, the commercial vehicle then increases its payload, ending up moving even slower and increasing the risk of road use to others. This is because the average speed of everyone slows down considerably inducing those who should move a little quicker to engage in riskier behaviour to try and overtake those slow moving overloaded vehicles. The behaviour of traffic is then a bit like having varicose veins.

Veins are the blood vessels that return blood to the heart and lungs after the muscles and body tissues have taken their fill of oxygen required. The way to tell whether a blood vessel is a vein or an artery is to check for a pulse. An artery will have the strong pulse of the heart beat while a vein will not. The easiest places to see veins are on the back of the hand and sometimes the top of the foot, especially when the weather is warm or someone has been exercising. During warm weather the veins dilate a little so that blood and therefore the body cools a bit to maintain internal temperature. During exercise you warm up too, but there is also increased blood flow because the heart has to pump more times to ensure all the body tissues get enough oxygen so the veins have to accommodate more blood.

There is a problem though when you notice veins that no longer flow straight towards the heart but instead form tortuous paths and become enlarged. When such formations are visible especially in the back of the lower leg then a person has varicose veins. The problem arises because veins unlike arteries are not very elastic. Especially in the lower limbs they rely on movement of the muscles of the leg and one way valves to stop blood from flowing backwards towards the toes. When the valves weaken then blood begins to flow backwards, stagnates and then pools around forming the varicose veins. This backward flow is called venous insufficiency.

There are several causes of varicose veins including age, pregnancy, obesity, a family history and standing for long periods of time. As people grow older the veins become less elastic and the valves become weaker. During pregnancy some women develop varicose veins because their veins cannot handle the increased volume of blood needed to feed the growing baby. In addition as the pregnancy progresses the ever larger uterus can begin to press on blood vessels in the pelvis increasing the pressure needed that the veins lower down have to overcome. Obesity in a way is like always being pregnant. People who stand for long periods of time without much movement cause blood to just sit because the muscles of the leg are then not involved as much as they should.

Women are more likely to be affected by varicose veins than men. The major complaint of varicose veins is that they look bad but there can be complications such as leg ulcers because of the fluid that builds up in the area and more rarely but more dangerous, blood clots because the blood no longer flows. This can create a medical emergency when a blood clot detaches, the valves are incompetent and the clot reaches all the way to the heart or brain and blocks a vital blood vessel causing a stroke.

Preventing varicose veins is not easy but there are a number of things that help. One of them is movement. If they do occur then exercising such as walking or jogging, losing weight and avoiding long periods of either standing or sitting eases any pain associated and prevents the condition from worsening. Standing in high heels for long strains the calf muscle making varicose veins worse, so flat shoes are preferred. In severe cases a doctor may prescribe compression stockings, an external aid to the valves and laser surgery to get rid of really bad veins. Studying the body tells us that moderation is key to many things. Not all of us are built to be super athletes, but all of us need to move around; move too slowly by focusing on slowing everything down leads to stasis from which major danger can arise.

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