How To Feel Your Absolute Best In Leg-Baring Looks This Summer

It’s all about a consistent beauty and fitness routine.

by Stephanie Montes and Claire Fox
Originally Published: 
How to have great legs at 50 and beyond

As the sun begins to set later and the weather turns from wintery gray to warm spring days, it might be time you think about busting out your mini skirts, bike shorts, midi dresses, and all of your favorite bottoms that showcase your legs again. Having “great legs” is definitely a priority to some, especially come skirt season. But as years go on and you get older, you might start to wonder how to get great legs after 50 or maintain them as you age.

Aging doesn’t have to comprise anyone’s goal of flaunting amazing legs — just look at J.Lo. That being said, the aging process is natural and real, and there simply are bodily changes that will take place that make achieving and maintaining great legs perhaps not as easy as in your younger years. Still, there are steps you can take to ease that aging process before and while it happens when it comes to the health and appearance of your legs.

“Exercise and a healthy lifestyle are important for maintaining muscle tone as we age — this helps to keep the legs well-shaped,” Dr. Hadley King, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, tells TZR. “For the skin, I recommend sun protection above all else, as well as topical moisturizers, antioxidants, retinoids, and exfoliants.”

For more on how to get and keep great legs, whether you’re aiming for more muscle definition in your 30s or smoother skin texture in your 60s, here’s the lowdown on tips you need for the leg-baring season and beyond.

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Great Legs In Your 20s

Your 20s are a great time to lay a strong, healthy foundation when it comes to having enviable legs. On the skin front, this is a time to build habits that will have your legs thanking you in the decades to come. The first thing to prioritize, as Dr. King explains, is sunscreen.

“Sun protection is the number one most important thing you can do to prevent premature aging of the skin, and this includes the skin of the legs,” Dr. King says. “Much of the sun damage that accumulates in our skin is the result of daily incidental sun exposure.” In fact, studies have indicated that wearing sunscreen every day can slow down the effects of aging, namely the prevention of wrinkles and hyperpigmentation caused by exposure to UV rays.

This is also a time when you can experiment and figure out what type of fitness routine works for you. Of course, most forms of exercise will help with the overall fitness that lends itself toward toned legs, but there are certain workouts that focus on building lean, strong legs, such as pilates and barre, which is ballet-inspired and includes a lot of inner and outer thigh work.

While squats and lunges are no-brainers for leg shape, paying attention to your body as a whole is the best option. Anything from cycling and running to dancing, practicing yoga, and hiking will keep you fit by building muscle and increasing your metabolism. At the same time, it’s important to remember not to hyper-focus your exercise on one specific part of your body.

“If you're too focused on the vanity of fitness (getting a bigger butt, a six pack, or thinner thighs) the experience becomes hollow,” pilates instructor and fitness influencer at Blogilates Cassey Ho previously told TZR. “From personal experience, focusing too hard on physical achievements only can lead to body dysmorphia. It becomes a much more meaningful journey when you can shift your focus to finding the joy in your workout and finding the joy in making your healthy meals.”

Great Legs In Your 30s

Just as you might treat your face and neck to prevent signs of aging, your legs could use similar attention, too (after all, it’s all skin). In addition to applying sunscreen, you might begin to invest in other skin care products for your legs in your 30s, particularly retinol.

“Beyond sun protection, topical retinoids are the most proven anti-aging topical option,” says Dr. King. “Retinoids work by binding to retinoic acid receptors, which then can act as transcription factors and affect gene expression. This makes them very powerful and able to produce significant changes in the skin. They increase the turnover of skin cells, reduce the tendency of cells and keratin debris to clump together and clog up pores, increase collagen production, and decrease discoloration.” Overall, retinol helps to rebuild collagen and improve the appearance of skin texture, discoloration, and elasticity over time, which is why it’s worth using not just in your face routine.

Other skin care products worth investing in for your legs include exfoliators, moisturizers, and anti-aging topicals, such as antioxidants, anti-aging peptides, and alpha hydroxy acids, according to Dr. King. “Topical antioxidants, e.g. vitamin C, are also helpful in protecting the skin from damage from free radicals, most notably from UV rays and pollution,” she explains. “Topical antioxidants combined with sunscreen have been shown to provide more sun protection compared to sunscreen alone.” Just be sure to check in with a dermatologist to see what products are right for you and in what combination. For example, pregnant and breastfeeding people should avoid retinol body products.

At some point, although it varies among people, you may notice the appearance of cellulite on your legs, as well as other places. “Cellulite is a condition in which the skin has a lumpy, dimpled appearance,” Dr. King says. “Cellulite occurs when fat deposits push through the connective tissue beneath the skin.”

As Dr. King explains, it affects people of all genders, but it is more common in women due to different distributions of fat, muscle, and connective tissue. “Between 80 and 90% of women may experience cellulite at some point in their lives — which tells us that cellulite is very normal!” she says. At the same time, commonly marketed methods of getting rid of cellulite “like dry brushing or creams with caffeine don't really work,” Dr. King explains, as “they don't change the anatomy that is creating cellulite.”

Techniques that Dr. King views as the most likely to help diminish cellulite include laser treatment, which involves inserting a very small laser probe under the skin and breaking up the tissue; subcision, putting a needle under the skin to break up the connective tissue bands; or vacuum-assisted precise tissue release, cutting the bands using a device containing small blades — all of which last around one to two years and can be pricey. “As for diet and exercise, decreasing overall body fat percentage through diet and exercise may help to improve the appearance of cellulite,” she says. “It will not eliminate cellulite.”

Nonetheless, cellulite is incredibly common and in no way prevents you from having great legs. “Try to remember that it is very normal and you are in excellent company,” says Dr. King. “We don't have any perfect solutions. And we are always our own worst critic.”

Great Legs In Your 40s

As you reach your 40s, you may notice your workout results start to plateau or you start losing muscle definition, which is totally normal. A decrease metabolic rate and muscle degeneration due to aging, called sarcopenia, is inevitable — but healthy living and exercise can definitely slow this natural process down. A 2018 study in Aging Cell showed that the typical loss of muscle mass and strength that comes with aging did not occur in older adults (both men and women) who exercise regularly.

Strength training, in particular, can help you preserve or increase muscle definition and mass. Even walking regularly will help combat sarcopenia and keep your legs looking great. “Walking is considered a weight-bearing exercise, which is the type of exercise that improves the strength and stability of our bones and helps ward off osteoporosis,” celebrity trainer and Vionic Innovation Lab Member Juliet Kaska previously told TZR.

In addition to fitness, you should start being mindful of what you put in your body in your 40s, if you haven't already. Cigarettes and alcohol, in particular, can lead to wrinkles and discoloration earlier in life, making you look older than you actually are. “Cigarettes trigger a biochemical change that can accelerate the aging process. Smoking depletes the body of vitamin C, a key antioxidant that keeps your skin plump and moist,” board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Mariana Vergara previously told TZR. “Alcohol is a vasodilator that dilates all the small vessels, creating a flushed appearance. It is a diuretic that dehydrates your body. When your skin is dehydrated, fine lines are more noticeable.”

These everyday habits can really help keep your legs looking healthy and youthful, especially as your body starts to change naturally with age.

Great Legs In Your 50s

Aging is natural, and in order to age gracefully and know how to get great legs after 50, it’s helpful to understand what exactly causes the skin of your legs to change over time.

“The causes of intrinsic and extrinsic skin aging include advancing age, genetics, photo-damage, pollution, stress, smoking, and for women, the rapid drop in estrogen that occurs during perimenopause,” Dr. King explains. “There is a 30% drop in collagen during the first five years of menopause ... and this is likely why women start noticing fine lines and wrinkles as they approach or enter menopause.”

Collagen is what gives your skin its youthful plumpness, so as women hit menopause, which typically occurs between ages 45 and 55, they might begin to see their skin affected as a result of the hormone changes, including an increase in wrinkles, discoloration, and a general lack of firmness in the legs.

“As we age, the skin's fibroblasts produce less collagen and elastin. There is also a decrease in connective tissue and glycosaminoglycans, as well as thinner epidermis and dermis,” Dr. King explains. “This leads to reduced hydration and compromised barrier function, loss of elasticity, and resilience. Aging skin therefore becomes thin, atrophic, dry, fragile, dull, and wrinkled.”

That being said, if you have already been using sunscreen, retinol, and other anti-aging topicals on your legs, then you will have a head-start on increasing collagen production. Even if you haven’t previously used such products, beginning to use them in your 50s will still have an effect on the overall look of your skin. Not to mention, as Dr. King explains, emollients (aka lotions and moisturizers) will help to “hydrate and moisturize the skin to keep it looking plump” even as you age and natural collagen levels decrease gradually over time.

Great Legs In Your 60s And Beyond

Not everyone will have the same aging process. From their 60s onward is when many begin to develop skin imperfections associated with age, such as age spots and varicose veins.

Age spots, also called solar lentigines, are caused by overactive melanin cells and look like light brown to black pigmented splotches of various sizes. They typically develop in chronically sun-exposed skin and are associated with photodamage. Since age spots are often caused by exposure to UV rays, prevention is directly linked to wearing sunscreen, so the sooner you adopt the ritual of slathering on SPF, the more you will protect your skin’s health and appearance over time.

Varicose veins and spider veins, on the other hand, cannot always be prevented. They happen when your veins become enlarged, dilated, and overfilled with blood, looking swollen, raised, and bluish-purple or red. Women are more likely to develop varicose veins than men — it’s estimated that at least 41% of women get them — likely due to high levels of progesterone, a hormone that regulates menstrual cycles and also relaxes the vein walls and valves.

According to the U.S. Office on Women's Health, getting regular physical activity, avoiding standing or sitting or long periods of time, putting your feet up, and wearing compression stockings can help prevent varicose veins by increasing blood flow from your legs.

If the appearance of your legs is something you are conscious of, there are always quick fixes to help improve your confidence, such as wearing skin-colored tights or stockings, putting on body makeup, or spray tanning to make your skin color and texture look more uniform.

However, it is also important to embrace the natural process of aging. Things such as age spots, varicose veins, and cellulite are unavoidable for some, if not most people, and they are nothing to be ashamed about. And remember, it’s never too late to invest in both your skin health and fitness. Even just using moisturizer and taking daily walks around the block will go a long way for your legs. What is most important is that you take care of your body and feel healthy, happy, and strong as you age.

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