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Foot and Leg Health In Seniors: A Guide For Successful Aging

Put Your Best Foot Forward
Good foot health is especially important for senior citizens, as three out of four people develop serious foot problems as they age. Maintaining good foot care is a solid step to enjoying your senior years on the go. Consider these helpful tips to keep your feet healthy:

  • Bathe your feet daily with warm water and blot dry; never rub. And don’t soak them longer than 10 minutes or the skin will get dry and start to crack.
  • Massage your feet with cocoa butter or a lanolin cream to help the skin retain moisture and stay soft.
  • Check your feet every day. Take a few minutes to look for cuts, blisters, bruises, sores, infected toenails or swelling. Use a small mirror if bending over is a problem, or ask someone for help.
  • Wear a clean pair of socks every day to help keep your feet dry.
  • Wear comfortable shoes, and rest your feet whenever possible by elevating them above your heart level.
  • Exercise carefully but often; walking is one of the best forms of exercise.
  • Have an annual foot exam.

For Improved Health, Get A Leg Up
Leg exercises are also a vital part of senior fitness. Here are several leg exercises that can be done at home, without any special equipment. Speak with your doctor before doing these exercises if you have a balance disturbance or are concerned about whether it is safe for you to do them.

Ankle Circles. While either seated or standing, hold onto the back of a solid chair. Lift one leg off the floor and rotate the ankle in a circular movement five times, then stop and repeat the motion in the opposite direction. Put your foot back on the floor and then repeat with the other ankle. This exercise improves ankle flexibility and is an effective warm-up exercise for lower legs. 

Calf Raises. Place a phone book or other thick item on the floor to stand on. Hold on to the back of a heavy chair for balance, step on the book, raise your heels off the ground and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 5 times. Reposition your feet so that only the front of your foot is on the book and allow your heels to drop so that you feel a stretch in your calf muscles. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 5 times. Calf exercises strengthen your legs and give you more stepping power.

Squats. Sit in a chair and push yourself into a standing position using only your legs. Lower yourself back down into the chair smoothly without dropping. Inhale on the way down and exhale as you push up. This works your thighs and buttocks. As your legs strengthen, abandon the chair and stand with your feet under your hips and bend at the knees and hips to squat towards the floor in a controlled manner and then push yourself back to the starting position. Repeat five to ten times.

Walking. As with foot care, walking also exercises your leg muscles. Wear comfortable shoes and walk in a safe environment, preferably with a companion. Aim to walk for at least 10 minutes a day initially with goals for gradual increases, ultimately building to 30 minutes a day at a brisk pace.

Our bones are healthy, living tissue that changes over time. While we can all expect to lose bone mass over time, there are things we can do to slow the progression. Exercise, proper nutrition, certain medications and regular check-ups can help seniors stay on their feet as they age.  

This article first appeared in the July 2015 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.