5 Exercises to Reduce Swelling in the Legs and Feet

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Tue Aug 01 2023.

5 Exercises to Reduce Swelling in the Legs and Feet

Have you ever looked down at your legs or feet, and noticed they were red, puffy, or unusually swollen? Seeing your calves or ankles bloat up can be frightening, but it usually isn’t serious. Often, healthy lifestyle changes like eating a balanced diet, quitting smoking, and regularly exercising can relieve uncomfortable symptoms and improve your quality of life.

If you have swollen legs or feet, working out might seem counterintuitive. But it’s one of the most effective ways to encourage your body’s anti-inflammatory response. Staying active enhances your circulation, preventing blood and lymph fluid from pooling in your lower extremities.

It’s possible to reduce swelling in your legs and feet, no matter your current level of physical fitness. Still, you shouldn’t try new exercises, until speaking with your primary care physician first. Once you do, here are 5 easy exercises to start with:

1) Walking In Place

If you have arthritis or a balance issue, using a treadmill or walking the dog, can be challenging. Instead of pushing yourself and risking an injury, try walking in place.

Stand next to a table, desk, or chair without wheels. Hold onto the object with your primary hand and begin walking in place. If you’re new to exercise, start with a walk that’s no longer than 5 minutes. After you start building up some strength in your thighs, legs, and buttocks, add intervals of between 5-10 minutes every week. Eventually, you may be able to walk for 30 minutes or more at a time. 

Carewell Tip

Keep a water bottle and phone near you at all times. That way, you can stay hydrated and call someone if you fall or have an accident.

2) Lying Down Trunk Rotation

For this exercise, you need to lie flat on your back. After lying down, bend your knees and place the soles of your feet flat on the ground. Then, slowly let both knees fall to one side until you feel a light stretch in your lower abdomen and hips.

Be careful not to arch your lower back. Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds and return your knees to the center starting position. Take a few deep breaths and then, let your knees slowly fall to the other side. 

Repeat the lying trunk rotations until you’ve done about 20 reps on each side.

3) Cycling

Foot problems, like plantar fasciitis and ankle instability, make it difficult to spend more than a few minutes standing. Enter the bicycle. Cycling is a low-impact activity that’s easy on your knees. It increases circulation throughout your body, strengthens your heart muscle, and improves the health of your veins –– all factors that can also help reduce swelling.

The video below is geared toward seniors with osteoarthritis, but the tips provided are applicable to people with leg and foot swelling too.

4) Standing Leg Lifts

For this exercise, you need to stand next to a table, handrail, or counter. Spread your feet shoulder-width apart. Then, slowly lift your right leg up behind you, keeping your knee straight until you feel a mild stretch. 

Hold your leg in that position for 5-10 seconds and then return it to the ground. Repeat the same stretch on your left leg. Do 10-12 reps on both legs every day. This will help reduce swelling, improve your balance, and increase your mobility. 

5) Squats

Want to reduce swelling, get stronger, and become more independent? Do squats. Don’t worry about a barbell as bodyweight works just fine. 

Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Then, drive your hips back and bend your knees, as if you’re getting ready to sit down on a chair. Keep your weight in the middle of your feet, being careful to not fall back onto your heels or lean forward onto your toes. Keep squatting until your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Hold for one second, slowly return to a standing position, and repeat.

Don’t let swelling slow you down

Everyone experiences swollen legs and feet from time to time, but lifestyle factors like being overweight, eating a high-sodium diet, or failing to exercise may increase the severity of your symptoms. If you have swelling that occurs alongside other problems, like shortness of breath, dizziness, or chest pain call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room immediately.

Hear it from a caregiver

"I've found that sometimes the best way to encourage my dad to exercise and stay fit is to work out alongside him. He's way more encouraged when it's something that we can do together!" - Rob H.

If you’re preparing to start an at-home exercise routine and need help finding grab bars or other equipment, get in touch. Our Care Specialists can answer your questions and make product recommendations. Call (800) 696-CARE or send an email to support@carewell.com.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.