Whether you’re jogging, playing tennis, or carrying groceries, your legs are involved in almost all of your daily activities. Your legs are your largest muscle group. They support you and keep you moving. Essentially, they’re the foundation of your body. As one gets older, one starts losing muscle and flexibility. This might be a result of decreased activity or joint disorders. But to keep one’s legs strong and avoid losing too much muscle as one ages, one need not also walk regularly, but also do other simple exercises lending strength to the feet and the legs.
The importance of keeping one’s legs strong needs hardly to be emphasized. That is why among Kashmiri Pandits blessings were given for the safe vision of the eyes and the strength of the knees (legs and feet included). This was done on account of the realization that when we are old, our feet must always remain strong. Among the signs of longevity summarized by the US magazine “Prevention”, “strong leg muscles” are listed in the top order. If one did not move for two weeks, leg strength decreased for 40 years. A study from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark found that in the case of both old and young, during two weeks of inactivity, leg muscle strength weakened by a third, which is equivalent to 40-50 years of age.
The whole body weight and pressure is on the legs; the foot being the pillar of the burden of the human body. Fifty percent of a person’s bones and fifty percent of the muscles in the two legs, the largest and strongest joints and bones of the human body are also in it. Nearly seventy percent of the activity and expenditure of energy in one’s life is done with both feet. “Strong bones, strong muscles, and flexible joints form the “iron triangle” that carries the most important load on the human body.”
The foot is the center of body transport. Both one’s legs have almost fifty percent of the nerves of the human body with fifty percent of the blood vessels, and fifty percent of the blood flowing through them. It is the large circulatory network that connects the body. It is only with the help of the healthy feet that the conduction channel runs smoothly. People who have strong leg muscles will definitely have a strong heart.
Even the process of aging starts from the feet. As a person gets older, the accuracy and speed of instruction transmission between the legs and the brain decreases, unlike when they were young. In addition, the so-called “bone-fertilizing” calcium in the bones will sooner or later be lost, making the elderly more vulnerable and prone to fractures. Fractures in the elderly, in turn, easily trigger a series of diseases, especially fatal diseases such as brain thrombosis. It has been observed that fifteen percent of patients die within a year of a fracture!
Although our feet will gradually age after age, exercising our feet is a lifelong task. Only by strengthening the legs, can we prevent further aging. Exercising the legs is the best solution. Even if one has not been a regular walker or a jogger, it is not too late to start even at the age of 60 years. Brisk walks strengthen muscles even as these burn calories, and lift one’s mood.
As the leg muscles weaken, it will take a long time to recover, even if one may go for rehabilitation later. Therefore, regular exercise is very important to incorporate strength training and functional movements into one’s workouts for maintaining or increasing muscle mass, improving balance, coordination, and decreasing any joint pain.
While putting one foot in front of the other is a simple way to strengthen one’s legs, the exercise also collaterally triggers cascading health benefits. Regular brisk walk helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol; control blood sugar; and reduce the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
The choice of food is also important for the strength of the lower body. While fruits, vegetables and other food items rich in minerals like calcium with regular exposure to sunlight for Vitamins D that helps in their absorption should form an important part of the diet, the combination of a balanced diet, rest and a progressive scientific weight training regimen that targets the lower body is the best and sure route to stronger and more powerful leg muscles. There is the need of the right combination of macronutrients that allow the body to build stronger and more powerful leg muscles. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, protein is essential and should comprise about 10-35 percent of total calories; Carbohydrates should remain the predominant macronutrient; complex carbs may be preferred over simple carbs but both are needed. About half the calories should come from healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grains, low-fat milk, fruits and vegetables. Fat should be used in moderation, totaling about 25-30 percent of the overall diet. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats should make up most of the fat allotment.
The preventive self-care measures mentioned below have been found to be quite useful.
Keeping one’s legs in one position for an extended period, their muscles tend to become jammed or tense due to the prolonged stress. So, try not to stand or sit in a stationary position for too long. Make it a point to move or stretch out legs from time to time to keep them relaxed and nimble.
Seriously consider quitting smoking in the interest of your overall health in general and to preserve your muscle strength in particular.
Limit your intake of greasy foods that are high in saturated fat.
Foods that are high in sodium can make one more prone to edema or water retention inside the body, which can compress one’s nerves and further deteriorate the muscle function. Keep salt consumption within the limits to prevent such complications.
Elevate legs to send more blood to the affected site, which can help reinvigorate the worn-out muscles.
Wear comfortable footwear that offers proper cushioning and support to the distressed feet. Flats and high heels should be avoided.
Final Word and Disclaimer: Occasional muscle burnout due to strenuous physical labor tends to resolve with a little rest, but the condition requires medical attention if it occurs frequently, or for prolonged periods where home care doesn’t work and is severe enough to hamper one’s productivity and overall well-being. Medical experts need to be consulted, who will conduct a thorough checkup to get to the root of the problem and then recommend the appropriate treatment, which may include both home-based and medicinal interventions.
Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.