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Health and Fitness

Our guide to perfect legs

by Charlotte Hoddge Published on 8 May 2018
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Our guide to perfectly toned legs

Tights and trousers are giving way to shorts, skirts, minidresses and you know bikini season isn't all that far away! And with mini fashion at an all-time high this summer, there'll be no avoiding getting your pins out.

Skimpy bikinis, little dresses and minis all require sculpted, toned, bronzed legs. If yours aren't beachworthy yet, don't worry: here's our guide to getting svelte legs you'll be aching to show off!

Follow our guide and you'll soon be showing off pins to make Penny Lancaster green with envy. See what to eat, what exercises to do, how to care for your legs at home, salon treatment and dos and don'ts for perfect pins!

Balance

A bad diet not only makes your pins prone to cellulite: if you're carrying a few excess pounds they show up very fast on your legs and make them look heavy.

A balanced diet is essential. Eat foods from every group in the right proportions: ideally around 15% protein, 35% fat and 50% carbohydrates according to your needs (1 800 calories per day), making sure you limit your intake of saturated fat (from fatty meat, cakes, cheese, butter and fried food), simple sugars (sweets, fizzy drinks and cakes) and salt (pre-prepared food or ready meals, and salted meats).

If you suffer from bad circulation, avoid alcohol as far as possible because it has a dilatory effect.

Drinking lots of water throughout the day (during and in between meals) is also essential. Drink at least 1.5 to 2 litres a day to help drain your body of toxins.

Good Foods

Certain nutrients are essential both for your health and for beautiful legs! Make sure you get plenty of the following:

-Vitamin E.Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant. It helps thin the blood and reduces your risk of thrombosis. Good Vitamin E foods include oleaginous fruits (almonds and other nuts) and plant oils (rapeseed oil, olive oil, nut oil and sunflower oil).
-Flavonoids. Flavanoids come from the polyphenol family. They fight inflammation, thin the blood, stimulate contraction of the veins and reinforce the walls of the blood vessels. Good foods include grapes, fruits of the forest (blackcurrants, blackberries and raspberries), fruit peel, cabbage, parsley, spinach, turnips, broccoli and tea.
-Potassium. Potassium has a draining effect and limits both storage of salt in the body and swelling. Good foods containing potassium include dried apricots, almonds, artichokes, asparagus, bananas, cress, spinach, fennel, liver, grapefruit, parsley, dandelion, pears, pistachio nuts, apples and grapes.
-Vitamin C. An excellent antioxidant, Vitamin C is essential for producing collagen which is vital for strong, elastic skin. Fresh fruit and vegetables are excellent sources of Vitamin C.

Which sports are good for your legs?

If you want great legs you're going to have to do some hard graft too. You need to go for sports that work the circulation of the veins, tone the walls of your veins and tone the muscles in your calves. Regular exercise is the key (at least 30 minutes walking a day and at least 3 hours of sport or exercise a week). In adidtion, pick exercise that is especially good for your legs:

Good sports: Walking, running on soft ground and cycling tone your leg muscles and are great for circulation, as is dancing (flamenco, salsa, etc) which streamlines them really well. Swimming builds muscle mass gently and hones your muscles, while stretching and yoga are highly recommended.

Bad sports: Tennis and indoor racket sports, which involve lots of impact with the floor; violent sports with a risk of shocks and trauma (ski-ing, fighting/martial arts and team sports, for example).

Targeted exercises

Here are three sets of exercises you can do at home alone:

​> Stand upright with your back straight. Swing one leg out in front of you and then behind you, without swinging too high, keeping your shoulders horizontal, your back straight and your stomach muscles working. Do ten swings with each leg and gradually work up to 30 each day.

> Get down on all fours, keeping your back straight and exactly horizontal. Lift one leg out behind you until it's horizontal, in line with your back. Do 10 without stopping if you can, then change legs.

> Standing upright with your legs apart and your hands on your hips to keep your balance, bend one leg to lower your body slightly, as much as you can whilst keeping your back straight, buttocks clenched and stomach pulled in. Do ten repetitions with each leg.

Walking

Walking is the best type of exercise for your legs. To make it even more effective, you can now get anti-cellulite compression tights which compress and 'massage' areas that are prone to cellulite (calves, thighs and buttocks). Among other things, they promise to improve your lymphatic circulation and aid the metabolism, help eliminate waste and prevent the tissues in your body from clogging up.

Anti Cell Anti Cellulite Compression Tights, £10.99
www.loveurebody.co.uk

Take Scottish showers

Cold water is excellent for your legs' health and well-being: it narrows your capillares, re-activates circulation, stimulates your tissues and firms your skin.

In the shower: Spray a jet of cold water 10cm from your body over your legs, from your big toe to the inner knee and then to the back, down to your ankle.

In the bath: Sit in an empty bath with your legs out in front of you and spray your legs with cold water in a back and forwards movement from your ankles to your thighs. Stop when the water covers your thighs or - if you can take it - goes up to your waist.

On the beach Walk in the water - it's really good for you! Take a walk along the coastline with the water at ankle, knee or thigh-height, depending on how you feel. Cold salty water reactivates the circulation and tones your legs, while the movement and resistance is excellent for your legs and massages them in the water.

DIY massage

With or without your anti-cellulite creams, here's some massage guidance to help you:

> To stimulate your lymphatic system and circulation:
Start with a smoothing movement from your ankle to your thigh, keeping your hands either side of your leg (repeat 5 times). Knead your entire thigh, paying particular attention to the sides and bottom of your thighs. Then smooth over your thighs right from the knee to the top of your leg, one hand after the other. Tap lightly, not keeping your hands clenched too much, around the outer thigh, and massage the area around your knees using circular movements, keeping your fingers together. Finally, knead your calves using both hands, pulling the muscle away from the bone, and finish with smoothing movements all over, like at the beginning.

> To firm your thighs:
Massage using upward motions from your knees to your hips. Place your hands flat with your thumbs on your thighs and fingers on the sides to make sure you cover the whole area.

> To hone your knees:
Use your middle fingers to massage each side of your kneecap. Keep them in position by putting your thumbs above your knees if you find it easier. Apply pressure in upward movements all around the knee, following the contours of your kneecap, then do the same using little spiral movements from bottom to top.

Lymphatic drainage massage

This highly technical form of massage is best done by a physiotherapist. It's recommended for people who suffer from heavy legs at the end of the day or œdemas. It aims to reduce stasis causes by poor circulation. It involves slow, gentle massage and pressure designed to pump and stimulate flow in the lymph vessels. Lymphatic drainage massage is not intended to get rid of cellulite, but by improving the flow between tissue and helping to eliminate waste and toxins, it can help to dislodge cellulite and can be a great ally alongside other anti-cellulite treatment and lifestyle changes. Ideally it should be done at least once a week for several weeks in order to be effective (a minimum of 30 45-minute sessions).

Pressotherapy

This involves continuous deep-powered pneumatic massage to the lower body. Your legs will be almost entirely enveloped in huge boots. Compression takes place segment by segment, starting with your feet. It uses hyperpressure to improve the venous circulation.

Pressotherapy has proved effective in people who suffer from oedema caused by venous problems, but the results are only interim, and it is less effective on cellulite.

More Treatments

Many beauty salons, spas and hotels now offer packages that include treatment for tired, heavy legs such as walking and water exercises, a special diet if you stay there, shower jets, draining and sculpting massage, pressotherapy and lymphatic drainage. These can help improve your circulation, tone your legs, bust cellulite and lighten heavy legs.

Thalassotherapy is based on the principle that the combined effect of the sun, iodine and salt water is beneficial to health and wellbeing. It involves natural treatments that tone, moisturise, relax, combat ageing and cellulite and improve the circulation. From seaweed baths to body wraps to walking pools, massage, mud and water jet massage, thalassotherapy is available in salons and you can also go away for a pampering thalassotherapy break at a spa or hotel. For more information see The Good Spa Guide.

Thermal treatments are becoming increasingly popular in Europe, with many spas offering packages. They are done using hot mineral spring water. Treatments include Watsu, body wraps, water massage and thermal muscle toning treatments. For more information see www.thermaebathspa.com or The Good Spa Guide.

Dos

> At work: Get hold of a footstool and put your feet up! Do ankle exercises every couple of hours (stand on tip-toe and then back onto your heels).

> At night: If you can, sleep with your feet raised higher than your heart (by 12 - 15cm). Raise your mattress with a bolster, or try raising the foot of your bed.

> When you're travelling, make sure you stop every couple of hours to have a stretch and a walk around. If you're on a train, go for regular walks, and if you're travelling by plane make sure you wear in-flight compression socks and ask for an aisle seat so that you can move about easily.

> Try and get about on foot as much as possible.

> Take regular lukewarm or cold baths with a big handful of rock salt thrown in.​

Donts

> Don't wear clothes that are too toght, especially at the waist, and avoid tight-fitting jeans. Avoid wearing boots, very high or very flat shoes.

> Never stay sitting down for more than two hours and don't cross your legs: it cuts off your circulation and harms the veins at the back of your knees.

> Never take the lift or escalator.

> Avoid very hot conditions, floor heating, air conditioning and prolonged sunbathing when it's hot, as well as hot baths, saunas and Turkish baths.

by Charlotte Hoddge