Best of 2020: 3 Simple Exercises for Swollen Legs and Ankles in Seniors

Swollen legs and ankles affect safety and quality of life

Many older adults are affected by swollen legs and ankles.

This can make moving around more difficult, increase fall risk, and make the lower body feel uncomfortable and heavy.

Legs, ankles, and feet swell when excess fluid is pulled down by gravity and builds up in the lower body.

This is called edema and it’s common in older adults and usually happens on both sides of the body.

It can be caused by a variety of health conditions including heart failure, kidney disease, gout, and arthritis. It can also happen after surgery, when the body is healing.

We explain how certain exercises help and share a 7 minute video with 3 quick and easy exercises that reduce swelling in legs and ankles.




How exercise reduces swelling in legs and ankles

These simple exercises are basically working against gravity and helping the body pump fluids up from the feet and back into the trunk (center area) of the body.

Once the fluid is in the upper body, it can be processed by the kidneys and eliminated in urine.

Because these exercises help the body get rid of excess fluid, your older adult might need to pee more frequently.


Safety first: get the doctor’s approval

Before doing any of these exercises, it’s essential to check with your older adult’s doctor and get their approval.

Moving fluid out of the legs and into the center of the body to be processed could put extra stress on their system, especially for people with heart or kidney conditions.

For example, it wouldn’t be helpful to reduce swelling in the legs if that makes a heart condition worse. The goal is to safely improve overall health.

And as with any exercise, it’s always best to start slowly and increase over time to prevent injuries or discomfort.


3 simple home exercises for swollen legs and ankles

Bob, Brad, and Aaron are physical therapists who demonstrate and explain how to do 3 simple home exercises that relieve swelling in legs and ankles.

Exercise 1: Ankle pumps (1:28 in video)
Lie down and elevate feet. Moving only the feet, point toes up toward the head and then point toes down away from head.

Go back and forth and aim for 30 repetitions, 3 times a day.

It’s best to do this exercise while lying down, but it can also be done while seated. To make them a little more effective while seated, use a stool to elevate the feet.

Another senior-friendly alternative (2:48 in video) is to tap the toes like tapping along to a song. It might even be fun to play some toe-tapping music to make it more fun.


Exercise 2: Butt squeezes (3:17 min in video)
While sitting or lying down, tighten the glutes (butt muscles) – as if trying to pick up a quarter that’s between the butt cheeks 🙂

Go slowly and try to hold the squeeze for a few seconds, then release and relax for a few seconds before the next squeeze.

While doing this exercise, make sure your older adult doesn’t hold their breath. They should breathe slowly and deeply.

Aim for 10 of these squeezes, 3 times a day.


Exercise 3: Single knee to chest (5:09 min in video)
While lying down, bring one knee up to the chest and then return the leg to the flat position. Keep the other leg either flat or bent with the foot on the bed to take pressure off the back.

After finishing the exercises with one leg, switch to the alternate leg.

They don’t specifically mention how many repetitions to do. 10 repetitions per side, 3 times a day seems reasonable, but use your judgement to see what works best for your older adult.


Next Step  Get a clear demonstration and walk-through of these 3 simple home exercises (7 min)


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By DailyCaring Editorial Team


This article wasn’t sponsored and doesn’t contain affiliate links. For more information, see How We Make Money.


  • Reply June 24, 2020

    R. Kanaka Swamy

    So useful thanks

    • Reply June 25, 2020


      You’re very welcome, we’re so glad this is helpful!

  • Reply March 17, 2020

    lorraine joubert

    Thank for

  • Reply March 26, 2019


    Thank you I helped a friend with showers since he injured his shoulder and his wife has too much arthritis to help. His stubborn with going to the doctor’s 4 extra visits. I myself am in a PACE program and we’ll show him some gentle exercises until he gets to his doctor. Nothing strenuous even a little bit until he gets in to his primary.

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