The launch of the Leg Matter coalition is significant because for the first time we have wide range of organisations coming together to raise awareness of the importance of leg health. The aim to get the nation thinking and talking about, and taking action on leg and foot conditions, including non-healing wounds and varicose veins.
More than half of us all experience some problem with our legs at some time in or lives. This can range from spider veins, varicose veins, to more serious complaints such as swelling and leg ulcers.
We all know that blood flow around the body is vital to our health, but legs play a vital role in that process. Pumped by the rhythmic contractions and relaxation of the heart muscle, blood flows around the body via three types of vessel: arteries, capillaries and veins, ensuring oxygen, nutrients and fluid gets into every living cell. Blood also ensures that carbon dioxide and some waste products are released from all parts of the body, returning it to the heart by the veins which have a system of one-way valves to prevent back flow. Excess fluid, other waste products and fats are returned as lymph fluid to the heart via the lymphatic vessels, which also have a one-way valve system.
However, since we have evolved to walk upright which means that our bodies have to work against gravity to prevent blood and fluid from collecting in our legs. The calf muscle is therefore instrumental in helping to pump blood and fluid back to the heart from the legs. If normal blood flow through the valves within the deep veins in your legs becomes ineffective through injury or inactivity, the blood may be redirected to the superficial veins. These are situated near the surface of the skin, causing various complaints such as varicose veins and leg ulcers. If the lymphatic system becomes ineffective through injury, infection or inactivity, fluid, fats, proteins other substances will collect and cause swelling.
Here are five tips to keep your legs healthy
1. Stop smoking:smoking increases the hardening of the arteries by about ten times. It also causes the smaller arteries to close up. Although it is hard to quit, support can be found through your doctor who can suggest nicotine substitutes, as well as help lines and booklets.
2. Keep moving:make sure every day includes regular exercise which will help to strengthen the muscles of your legs and improves your blood circulation. Here are some simple exercises:
- Right heel on floor – move your foot left to right ten times.
- Left heel on floor – move your foot left to right ten times.
- Both heels on floor – move your feet left to right ten times.
- Right heel on floor – lift left leg up and down to knee height ten times.
- Left heel on floor – lift right leg up and down to knee height ten times
- Stand up and sit down ten times
3. Take good care of your feet: make sure shoes fit correctly and are not too small ask your doctor to refer you to a podiatrist (a specialist in looking after diabetic feet) for regular check-ups. Also, by wearing comfortable shoes this will help reduce the strain on your legs.
4. Take care of your skin: look after your skin by avoiding extremes of temperature avoid scratching, and trauma. Be aware of the importance of taking daily good care of your skin with the use of simple moisturisers on to the lower legs will be simple but an effective way of preventing damage.
5. Keep your weight under control: being overweight can increase your risk of developing varicose veins as it puts pressure on the valves of the veins, causing wear and tear. Over time, if blood is unable to circulate properly it will back up and pool in the legs, leading to unsightly varicose veins. Also, extra weight also puts strain on the joints, especially those in the knees and hips, and is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
About the author
Ellie Lindsay OBE, is the Life President – Lindsay Leg Club Foundation