Do your feet tend to swell up as the weather warms up? This is actually very common, and occurs as a result of your body’s natural cooling mechanism. However, it can be exacerbated by factors such as diet and age. In today’s blog, I talk about why your feet swell up in warmer weather, and what you can do to reduce this uncomfortable condition.
When the sun comes out it’s inevitable that your ankles and feet do too! No longer hidden under trousers, tights or boots, at this time of the year our lower limbs and toes are freer to bask in the summer sun (when it makes an appearance) in shorts, skirts and flip flops. But with the sun comes heat and with heat often comes ‘the swell’!
Why do my ankles and feet swell in hot weather?
This phenomenon is actually a result of your body's natural cooling mechanism. When you are too hot your veins dilate (expand), allowing fluids to leak into surrounding tissues. The widening of these blood vessels in warm weather is perfectly natural as it’s our bodies’ way of trying to keep itself cool. However, when this happens your veins struggle to pump blood back to the heart and have trouble fighting gravity, which pulls fluid down to the ankles and feet, causing it to pool, resulting in swelling and discomfort.
What can make this problem worse?
Swollen ankles and feet can be exacerbated by a number of factors including:
Too much salt in your diet – This causes a salt : water imbalance which the body tries to correct by retaining extra water.
Prolonged sitting or standing – As we walk, the movement of our legs helps to pump blood up from the lower limbs. However, sitting or standing still means that your body has to work harder to pump blood against gravity.
Age – As we age our circulation can become slower and our hearts can become less efficient at pumping blood around the body. This makes it easier for fluids to pool in the lower limbs.
Pregnancy – Pregnancy already puts extra strain on the vascular system, as the body has to deal with an increase in fluids as well as an increase in weight. Swollen feet and ankles are a common side-effect of pregnancy anyway, so this only worsens in warm weather.
So what can you do to relieve this problem?
10 natural ways to ease swollen feet and ankles in warm weather
If your swelling is being caused by heat there are many natural ways you can help cool down your lower limbs, improve poor circulation and help return fluid to your blood vessels, including:
1. Elevate your feet
If your feet and ankles are swollen, this is one of the first things you should do to help reduce the swelling. Gravity really isn’t your friend when it comes to swelling, so you need to reverse its effect on your limbs by making sure you elevate your feet as much as possible.
It is recommended to raise your legs/feet higher than your heart, 3-4 times a day for 30 minutes each – depending on the severity of the swelling. When you go to bed you can also put a pillow under your ankles to help drain the excess fluid.
2. Avoid heat as much as possible
If you are prone to swelling when it is warm, try to stay a cool as possible. Easier said than done sometimes, but one way to do this is to ensure you don’t sit in direct sunlight. Find shaded areas to sit in or seek out air conditioned rooms where possible.
Keep a mini fan handy to keep you cool and try a cooling foot spray like Salt of the Earth’s Foot Spray which can refresh and cool down hot feet and ankles quickly.
Avoid excessively hot baths, hot showers and saunas as these can worsen swelling. Try to keep your water temperature warm but not too hot, and at the end of a shower a good tip is to blast your legs with a jet of cold water to boost circulation.
3. Stay active
Although excessive and intense exercise or activity can contribute to swelling in the lower limbs, gentle exercise such as walking and swimming is good for you as it helps to boost your circulation and get fluid build-up flowing again. A good way of ensuring you don’t over-heat and add to any swelling is to exercise at cooler times of the day, such as the morning or early evening.
Swimming is particularly good for swollen feet and ankles as it not only cools them down and keeps you off your feet, it also promotes gentle movement and stretching which helps to get fluids moving, while the water pressure can also help to improve circulation. Anything that pumps the calf muscles helps, even if you’re just treading water in the pool or simulating this movement while sitting at work.
4. Drink plenty of water
Whatever you do, don’t limit the amount of water you drink thinking this will lessen the amount of water you retain. Not drinking enough water can make the salt concentration in your blood to go up, which makes your body retain any water you do drink and cause swelling! Excess salt is a big contributor to swelling, so by drinking more water you can help to dilute the amount of salt in your system and flush it out.
Try to aim for at least 8-10 glasses of plain water a day. If you struggle to drink plain water then try adding slices of cucumber and lemon to it. This not only makes a refreshing drink, but cucumbers and lemons are also great for fighting the swell due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Tasty and powerful!
5. Watch your diet
As I have mentioned, one of the main causes of swelling is excessive salt, so you need to be mindful of how much you consume in your diet. To limit your chances of swollen ankles and feet it is best to pass on the table salt and look at a low-sodium alternative or reduced salt varieties of foods which are usually high in salt, such as soups, sauces, crisps and smoked meats. Try to avoid eating highly processed foods as these often have a high salt content.
Summer is a great time for adding more fresh fruit and vegetables into your diet and there are some that are better than others when it comes to helping your swollen feet.
Certain foods are natural diuretics, which increase and encourage urine production, and can provide relief from fluid retention. Unlike prescribed diuretics, natural ones do not strip your body of essential vitamins and minerals. Foods that have this diuretic effect include beetroot, leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach, pumpkin, green beans, asparagus, onion, lemons and pineapple.
6. Support your legs, ankles and feet
Support tights or compression socks can help prevent swelling. They may be a little difficult to get on, but their tightness is key! They provide measured pressure to reduce the size of dilated veins, increase blood flow and help to prevent the pooling of fluids in ankles and feet, which causes swelling.
7. Avoid being stationary for too long
After a long day at work, especially if you have been sitting or standing all day, it is normal to have some swelling in your legs, ankles and feet, since gravity has been at work all day.
One way to avoid this is to ensure you have regular ‘walking breaks’ to ease discomfort and get fluid moving and blood flowing upwards again. If you sit at a desk all day long, try finding a way of propping your feet up – even a slight rise can make a big difference to your swelling.
Try not to sit with your legs crossed as this can restrict blood flow and make swelling worse. It’s best to sit with your feet flat on the floor or crossed at the ankles.
Massaging your feet and ankles is a good way to get fluid moving and reduce swelling. The best way to do this is by massaging gently, using both hands and working upwards from feet to knees in a circular motion. Or better yet get someone else to massage them for you, as this ensures that you don’t bend your knee and restrict flow.
Essential oils such as peppermint oil and grapefruit oil mixed with a carrier oil such as almond oil are great to use when massaging swollen feet and ankles. Check out our range of essential oils here!
9. The power of magnesium
Magnesium is an important mineral for blood circulation so it’s no surprise that a deficiency in the amount of magnesium in the body can often lead to swelling. A dose of 200mg taken twice a day can make a difference. Check out our range of magnesium products here, from drinks to tablets and sprays we have a supplement that can help support your circulation.
You can also look to your food to increase your magnesium intake by eating more magnesium rich foods including dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, nuts and seeds, fish, avocado, bananas and dark chocolate.
10. Conkers are great for your lower limbs
I don’t mean that you should play the traditional game of conkers (even though it is fun), but rather it’s the seeds from Horse Chestnut trees which can help tighten the membranes of the blood vessels, encouraging better venous circulation.
Horse chestnut extracts in gels such as Venagel are soothing, help reduce swelling and provide cooling relief to legs, ankles and feet that feel weary, heavy and uncomfortable. Plus, the act of massaging the gel in helps to stimulate blood flow!
How to use: Massage a small amount of the gel onto the skin 2 to 3 times a day using an upwards motion. Pay special attention to the ankles and the areas that feel most uncomfortable.
What else you should be aware of
Although uncomfortable and often embarrassing if your swollen ankles and feet are on show, swelling is usually temporary, unless it is being caused by an underlying health condition. If proper rest, together with these self-help treatments don’t reduce swelling or if you have high blood pressure, then it is important to seek medical advice from your doctor as it may be a sign of a more serious health condition.