While we always remember to brush our teeth and know that we should exercise daily, not many of us ever actively think about how to keep our legs and feet healthy.
As well as getting us from A to B, our legs and feet contain a vast amount of our nervous system and one of the body’s most significant arteries. So keeping them healthy should be our top priority, explains Osteopath Dr Nick Efthimiou from integrativeosteopathy.com.
He says, “Having strong; well-balanced legs are a key component of having a healthy, high functioning body. Our legs are anatomically suited to producing both high levels of force and for walking and running long distances. This means we need to develop both functions – strength and stability through a full range of motion along with endurance, to be able to walk or run for distance.”
So how do you develop strong legs and feet, while making sure that your muscles, skin and bones stay healthy?
1. Find out if you have any medical problems with your legs or feet
If you’re here because issues with your lower extremities have risen over the last couple of months, the best thing you can do is to head over to the GP and get them sorted first.
2. Start with some gentle exercise
Whether it’s a bone or muscle problem, after you’ve been given the all-clear from the doctor, gentle exercise should be your next idea to get your legs and feet back to health.
Dr Efthimiou says, “The squat is simply the best lower body exercise you can do if you can do it properly.
“Squatting demonstrates ankle, knee, hip and spine mobility and trunk stability in the most fundamental human movement pattern – it’s how we first get up from the ground to be able to walk.”
3. Maintain a healthy weight
To keep knees and ankles in fighting shape, maintain a good weight for your height as not only is obesity connected to conditions like arthritis, but it can also lead to varicose veins.
As the John Scurr Medical Practice says, “Varicose veins are dilated blue veins which can be very prominent, ranging from a minor dilation of a vein less than a millimetre across through to a large bunch of grape-like structures behind the knee.”
If you’re already experiencing these, the practice suggests that anyone with varicose veins should receive treatment, even if the complaint is purely cosmetic, “as they are a slowly progressive condition that will get worse over time.
4. Elevate your feet when sitting down
To stop your ankles or legs swelling up, doctors advise that you elevate your legs higher than your heart for at least ten minutes a day. It’s especially important to do this if you work in an office and spend your day sitting down, or interestingly if you spend all day walking and standing up.
Essentially it’s something that we all should be doing. Alternatively, as Dr John Scurr told the Daily Mail, “Support socks can also help.”
5. Stretch out
Exercise helps our legs and feet with blood circulation and muscle maintenance, but what’s the one thing that can ruin all of that for us? Tight hamstrings and Achilles’ heels. Straining or at the absolute worst, snapping one of these is a recipe for some real pain and prolonged recovery time.
To help prevent this, Qualified Personal Trainer James Waterhouse says that stretching and stretching well is so important. “If you’ve been working the legs,” he says, “Be sure to stretch out your hamstrings. You can do this by standing up straight with your knees together, then reaching down slowly to try and touch your toes.
6. Create a good sleep schedule
Sleep is necessary for any part of the body really, but the key to healthy feet and legs is to maintain a good sleeping routine as this helps your body to recharge and repair itself from the day.
7. Wear the right-sized shoes
Statistics reveal that in 2014 that 80% of Americans have issues with foot pain, with the UK not far behind. Why? We’re not wearing the right-sized shoes, either lengthways or width, to give our feet breathing space.
Dr Jack MacKenney at the Space Coast Ankle and Foot Centre says that actually, three in four of us are wearing shoes that are half a size too big or too small. “This greatly increases the risk of foot, ankle, leg, and even lower back pain, as well as other various foot problems.”
8. Keep your feet clean and dry
We’ve all experienced that dreaded feeling when you step in a puddle and feel the water soak into your shoe. Well, on top of it being unpleasant, it has the potential to cause a fungal infection.
Try and wear waterproof shoes when it’s raining outside and if you get caught out, make sure to change to dry your feet and change your socks and shoes at the earliest opportunity.
Podiatry specialist, John J. Oricchio, says that another way to avoid this is to not share footwear – including rentals – as “wearing other people’s shoes can increase your odds of getting an infection.”
9. Don’t run in sandals
Running in sandals is an extreme example, we admit. But as John J. Oricchio says, “Always wear sport-specific shoes for the sport you are playing. Wearing improper shoes can lead to potential foot problems such as plantar fasciitis, arch spasms, heel spurs and tendonitis.”
10. Cut your toenails
Having long toenails not only looks unsightly when you’re strutting on the beach but can cause some serious medical issues if you let them grow out far enough.
These can include painful ingrown toenails, an issue where the nail curves and grows back into the skin. It can also lead to an infection that takes a while on antibiotics to cure.
11. Drink enough water
Hydration is an obvious one really, but we all know someone that never, ever drinks enough water! The NHS Eatwell Guide suggests that we should all be drinking six to eight glasses of liquid per day. These guidelines include water, low-fat milk, sugar-free drinks, tea and coffee.
Although, it’s essential to still keep those hydration levels up if you’re getting your caffeine hit every morning, as coffee works as a diuretic.
12. Use sun cream
SPF should be an essential part of your daily skin routine, whatever the season. But in summer is when you need to watch the rays as they can hit your feet and legs without you even realising.
Be sure to slather sun cream on all areas of your legs and even underneath the soles of your feet when you’re in the sunshine, to prevent nasty burns.
13. Scrub your skin
In the shower and doing a scrub? Chances are, according to the experts, you’re missing two significant areas – your feet and although less common, your legs.
Proper exfoliation gets rid of the barrier of dead skin cells that clog up your skin and prevents fresh new cells from emerging. By doing this, you’re also ensuring that moisturisers and creams can get into your skin and do their job with maximum efficiency.
14. Wear stockings on long-haul flights
The risk of clots in the legs or deep vein thrombosis is serious on flights over eight hours long. These can be life-threatening, so the next time you’re in the airport pharmacy, be sure to pick up some elastic compression socks.
15. Avoid wearing high heels when possible
Harvard University discovered that wearing two-inch heels increases strain on the knee by more than 20%. The reason is that high heels force the wearer to bend their knees unnaturally and add unusual pressure to the leg joints.
16. Take a walk
It’s much the same as doing exercise every day, but if you’re in no mood for an after-work run, then just a walk is proven to have profound health benefits for your legs and feet.
When you’re taking your stroll, make sure you’re standing up straight with your head up and look forward. Lead with the knee, rather than the foot.
17. Go for a massage
“If you experience legs that are tired and achy, treat yourself to a massage.” The experts at Vascular & Interventional Specialists of Prescott suggest, “Massages help improve circulation throughout your body and make you feel rested and relaxed.”
18. Don’t paint over problems
If you’ve got yellow or green, cracked or crumbling toenails, it’s essential to go and see a doctor or a pharmacist as this could be a sign of nail fungus.
Try to stay away from using chemicals like nail polish or remover on the area until you’ve had treatment.
19. Buy better socks
“Socks made of synthetic fibres tend to wick away moisture faster than cotton or wool socks,” Podiatrist Elizabeth Kurtz told Everyday Health, so invest in smarter socks to keep excess moisture out from around your feet which can go on to cause infections.