Exercise is vital to maintaining our overall health and with a variety of sports and activities available year round, there’s a workout regimen that fits everyone’s needs. Unfortunately, most people ignore one of the most critical elements for exercise success — our feet.
Feet are our foundation — they provide us with balance, distribute weight and assist with ambulation of our bodies forward, backward and laterally. With so much resting on our feet — literally — it’s crucial to take good care of them for whole body health. This is especially important when we engage in athletic activities when we put more stress and strain on our bodies for longer periods of time.
Following are some tips to get your feet in shape no matter what level of activity you’re engaging in — from running a marathon to playing a game of basketball with the kids:
- Start slow — if you’ve been inactive for a while, or if you’re starting a different exercise program, take time to build up your stamina to avoid foot strain, fractures and sprains. You may want to start conditioning your feet by doing some strengthening exercises, including:
- Toe grip to strengthen the foot muscles for balance: Sit straight in a chair with feet flat on floor. Place an empty bowl and several marbles on the floor and use your toes to grip and lift the marble off the floor and into bowl. Repeat 10 times with each foot.
- Toe extension to strengthen and support the muscles: Wrap a hair band or rubber band around all five toes. Expand your toes and hold for 10 seconds; release. Repeat ten times on each foot.
- Calf raise to strengthen the feet and the calves and improve balance: Stand near a counter or a doorway and hold on lightly for balance being mindful not to transfer body weight to wall or counter. Balance on one foot and rise up onto your toes. Hold for 10 seconds, and then lower. Repeat 10 times on each foot.
- Calf stretch prevents Achilles tendons and the plantar fasciae from getting tight: Sit with one leg stretched out in front of you and wrap a belt or scarf around the ball of the foot. Pull the towel back gently using your arm muscles until you feel a stretch in the arch of the foot and the calf. Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat ten times on each leg.
- Shoes — not all athletic shoes are created equal. Be sure to match the shoe to your activity to ensure the best athletic form and support. For example, running shoes are light, flexible and support simple forward strides. Cross-trainers are wider to offer more stability and balance with lateral movement — needed for activities like strength training or basketball. High top sneakers can offer additional ankle support. Keep an eye on the wear and tear of your shoes too — they have a limited lifespan and should be replaced once they start to lose their support, cushioning and form. Wearing shoes that are worn out can contribute to poor foot health and injury.
- Socks — wear padded, polyester-blend socks. Cotton socks hold moisture and lose their cushioning, creating a wet layer around your foot, which can lead to fungal infections and blisters. Materials that wick moisture away are best, especially those that are low friction. Liner socks can also be worn to reduce friction.
- Posture — pay close attention to your body to be sure you’re using the best posture for the activity you’re engaged in. Using incorrect posture can lead to destabilization of your body putting you at risk of foot and overall body injury. A rigid shoe insert improves positioning of joints in the foot and overall posture.
- Hygiene — be sure to wash your feet using a mild soap, getting between the toes and drying thoroughly, especially after a workout. Keeping your toenails trimmed, cut straight across, can reduce the likelihood of ingrown toenails. Wear shower shoes or slides in the locker room or at the pool to avoid fungal infections like athlete’s foot. Regularly spray shoes with disinfectant to reduce bacterial load and odors.
Taking these steps can help get your feet in shape and let you put your best foot forward for exercise and health. If you have questions or are experiencing foot pain or issues, please call or schedule an appointment online with one of our podiatrists today.