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Dr. Donnica's Top Tips on Healthy Legs

Every woman wants glamorous looking legs and nearly every women's magazine offers tips to get them.  Women need to focus more, however, on having healthy legs.  Of course, the good news is that healthy legs will also be stronger and better looking than their unhealthy counterparts. 

The most common leg health problems to avoid are circulatory: varicose veins, poor circulation, and blood clots (either superficial or deep vein thromboses).  People with risk factors are at greater risk for circulation problems, which are at the root cause of most leg problems.  But caring for your leg bones and joints is almost as important as caring for your leg veins and muscles!  Osteoporotic hip fractures are a major cause of disability in women over age 65.  Osteoarthritis is usually experienced in the hands, but can affect the hips and knees as well.  In addition, remember that the feet are integrally important parts of the legs and that they have health concerns of their own. 

Here are the top twelve tips to developing healthy legs. 

  1. Exercise, exercise, exercise!  Just as "location, location, location" is the cardinal rule in real estate, "exercise, exercise, exercise" should be the mantra for healthy legs.  But this doesn't mean you have to become a gym rat or a triathlete:  20-30 minutes of brisk walking per day should be sufficient for most women.  Walking and other forms of aerobic exercise is great for your strength and circulation; weight bearing exercise is essential to protect your bones. 
  1.  Remember to care for your bones.  Weight bearing exercise is an important part of this, but getting adequate dietary or supplemental calcium and vitamin D is also critically important.  Menopausal women--or women with other risk factors--should be tested for osteoporosis and treated if necessary. 
  1. Maintain a healthy weight.  While weight bearing exercise is important, nothing puts greater pressure on the feet, knees, hips, ankles and legs than carrying around extra baggage. 
  1. Avoid tight fitting or restrictive clothing, especially around the waist, knees and groin.  However, light support panty hose can often help your circulation. 
  1. Wear comfortable shoes.  Wear supportive shoes and avoid regular usage of high heels or shoes that are too tight. 
  1. Avoid long periods of sitting or standing still.  Especially when traveling, move your legs and feet around--or take walking breaks-- if you have to stand or sit for extended periods.  Even small movements allow your calf muscles to assist the circulation in your legs.  Regular stretching can also be very helpful. 
  1. Don't forget to care for the skin you're in.  Avoid sunburn.  Also:  moisturize your legs regularly; very dry skin may contribute to varicose vein formation. 
  1. Listen to your legs:  if they're complaining, take them to your doctor.  Symptoms to beware of:  leg or ankle swelling; leg pain or tenderness; varicose veins; numbness or tingling down the legs; leg cramping; and skin discoloration or ulceration.
  1. Avoid long, hot baths (instead, take showers).  Prolonged or excessive heat can dilate blood vessels.
  1. Elevate the legs when possible.  Not having to pump blood upwards against gravity gives your circulation system a well-earned rest.  For relatively healthy people, this may mean remembering to elevate the legs from time to time; for pregnant women or those who already have circulatory problems, this may mean elevating the legs as often as possible and even sleeping with pillows under the legs. 
  1. Don't cross your legs.  As mother always told you, this can constrict blood flow. 
  1. Don't smoke!  There are probably hundreds of reasons not to smoke, but as far as the legs are concerned, smoking can increase the risk of direct damage to the vein walls as well as increasing the risk of high blood pressure and osteoporosis.

To see Dr. Donnica discuss healthy legs, click here.

Created: 9/19/2005  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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