We have a member in the gym who has suffered for many years with water retention in her calves. Are there any specific exercises and things to avoid/add to her diet, which will help to alleviate/improve the condition? The member is female in her late 50s and is taking medication for menopause. She works in retail, so she is on her feet all day, although she wears flats as opposed to heels. Her diet appears healthy, although she does consume anywhere from four to eight cups of coffee a day. Her water consumption is in the region of one and a half to two liters a day. Blood pressure is on the low to normal scale, and she takes multi vitamins and cod liver oil daily. Weight wise she is 45kg and 160cm tall. The member also smokes five to six cigarettes a day, rising to 10+ on the occasional bad/stressful day. When it comes to the gym, she attends three to five times a week and does 60 to 150 minutes of slow and progressive cardio. The symptoms started in her early 20s post pregnancy and worsened slightly after the menopause. On bad days, her ankles can also swell. Elevating the legs at home helps the swelling to go down. Many thanks for any advice/feedback you can provide.
I bounced this question off my allopathic and naturopathic colleagues, and each one of them recommends a thorough check up to rule out any serious medical condition such as cancer, congestive heart failure, thyroid, liver or kidney disease or even malnutrition. Keep in mind that edema is a sign of an underlying problem, rather than a disease unto itself. For instance, fluid retention may be a side effect of her medication. Too much estrogen and not enough progesterone can have this effect. So, the first step is to have a full work up and physical.
Next, venous insufficiency can be affected by smoking. There is a simple way to correct this: the member should stop smoking! As Dr. Fred Hui, a physician who practices both Eastern and Western medicine in Toronto, puts it: “Let the baby cry!” When you drop off your toddler to daycare for the first time, it’s a certainty that he will cry as you leave. The worst thing you can do is turn around. To rid the smoking habit, quit cold turkey and resist the urge to turn back.
Dehydration can be another issue. The member drinks as much as two liters of water a day. That’s great, but she offsets that with as much as two liters of coffee daily as well! She should cut back her coffee intake gradually to an absolute maximum of one per day. Substitute caffeine-free herbal teas such as peppermint, ginger or chamomile and/or use a caffeine-free herbal coffee called Teeccino to gradually wean off the java. Also, she should squeeze fresh lemon and add a pinch of sea salt to her water to improve absorption.
With regards to diet, it is important to develop an organic consciousness. Removing toxins from the body will reduce the burden on the liver. Reduce, if not eliminate, all processed, packaged and refined foods. A high sodium intake can contribute to fluid retention. Furthermore, world-renowned sports nutritionist Dr. Eric Serrano is quick to point out that consuming too many fruits may cause water retention. Vegetables have all the benefits of fruit (i.e., vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, etc.) without the sugar.
Sweating is an extremely powerful way to cleanse the body from accumulated toxins. In fact, some modern industrial toxins and pesticides can only leave the body through sweat glands! Yes, exercise is important to improve circulation, but not 150 minutes of it five times a week. Too much of a good thing can be bad! Keep the workouts below an hour and perform exercises within tolerance. When possible, elevate the legs during exercise. For instance, instead of an upright cycle, use a recumbent. Rather than squats, try the leg press. Instead of standing arm curls, use lying cable curls. Favor decline presses and extensions over incline versions, etc.
At my studio, we use an electronic swing machine called the Chi Energizer with great success to control edema. This device is excellent around workouts: pre workout at higher frequencies as a warm up and post workout at lower frequencies as a cool down. Believe it or not, jumping on a mini trampoline/rebounder can be just as useful.
Of course, massage is also quite helpful. Finding the right therapist is important, but there is a cheaper alternative. Do you know that laughing is a natural inner massage and can reduce fluid retention by as much as 30 percent just through a change of mood? It’s true.
Wearing support hose starting first thing in the morning before the ankles have a chance to swell is recommended. Flats are good, but make sure not to wear tight shoes since any kind of constriction only adds to edema above or below the constriction.
Standing for long periods at work can definitely be a problem. Walking when she gets a break will help stimulate blood flow.
There is so much more to consider, such as parasitic/bacterial infections, dental toxicity (e.g., silver amalgams), allergic reactions, varicose veins, etc., but hopefully these suggestions will help.