Fitter Feet Forever
Our poor feet can take a beating. We run, jump and dance on them. We jam them in to too tight shoes and stub the toes on furniture. We may ignore them completely until something goes wrong. When you lose the use of your feet for some reason, your quality of life can take a nosedive. So let’s keep our feet healthy and fit forever.
Fun Feet Facts
Flat feet. In World War II, thousands of men were turned away from the military for having flat feet. A flat foot exists when the foot lacks an arch between the heel and the ball of the foot. But hear this! In a 1989 study of more than 300 Army infantry trainees at Fort Benning Ga., those with flat feet had far fewer training injuries than recruits with normal or high insteps. A flatfoot myth kept those recruits from serving in WWII.
Complex construction. One foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments and a whopping 250,000 sweat glands. The muscle groups of your two feet make up 25% of the body’s muscles.
Foot growth. Today, the best-selling shoe size is 8.5 for women and 10.5 for men. That is a full ½ size larger than 30 years ago.
Toenail tidbits. Toenails grow slower than fingernails. It takes about six months for a toenail to grow the full length from cuticle to tip. Toenails are also health indicators. Watch out for anemia (spoon-shaped indentations), poor blood circulation (hairless toes) or psoriasis (pits in the nail surface).
Keeping your feet fit
Because you have so many foot muscles, keeping them well exercised is a way to influence proper foot mechanics (operation), walking or gait patterns, ankle stabilization and balance.
For example, if you wear flip flops all the time, your toes are in a gripping position. This can cause chronic tension in the flexed position and eventually alter your balance.
Try these exercises:
Try these exercises and see if you notice some improvements in balance and performance after a few weeks. We’re betting you will.
- Bottom Foot Strengthening. This one is fun. Try to pick up small pebbles with your toes while paying attention to the muscles in the bottom of your foot. As an alternative, you can roll up a towel and scrunch it with your toes.
- Calf Raise. Stand near a counter or a doorway and hold on lightly for balance. Balance on one foot and rise up onto your toes for 10 seconds and then lower. Repeat this 10 times and then switch legs.
- Foot Circles and Points. Dancers often warm up with these foot exercises. Just flex your foot as far as it will go, and then point your foot as far as it will go. Repeat 20 times. Alternate the flex and point, with 20 foot circles on each foot. To do this, rotate the foot around in a circle in one direction (clockwise) and then the other (counterclockwise). Try doing these while you’re waking up in the morning and before getting out of bed. For additional resistance loop a resistance band around your foot. If you can tell that one foot is stronger than the other, give the weak side an addition 1-2 rotations. You want to achieve balance.
- Spa Treatment. This could be a pedicure, hot bath, good soak and some lotion. Try massaging your feet by rolling them around on a golf ball or other small ball.
- Toe Abduction. Our feet are frequently smashed and crammed into too tight shoes. This creates weak and tight toe abductors which prevents you from being able to spread your toes wide naturally. To do this exercise, stand barefoot, with the weight on your heels. While in that position, lift your toes and spread them away from each other.
- Toe Extension. Wrap an elastic band around all five toes. Try to expand your toes to stretch the band and hold it for five seconds. Do this five ties on each foot.
- Toe Flexor Stretch. Stand up and reach one leg behind, placing the top of the foot on the ground. Relax and stretch your ankle. If you experience cramping in your toes, take a break and return to the stretch. Work yourself up to holding one minute on each side.
- Toe Grip. Drop a sock or other small clothing item on the floor and pick it up with your toes. Hold it aloft for 10 seconds and then let it go. Do this five ties with each foot.
- Toe Lifts. Lift your big toe on its own, without the other toes lifting. Keep working on it until you can do it smoothly. When you’ve mastered that, continue on toe lifting each toe, one at a time, until all five are in the air. Then, place them down again, starting with the smallest toe and down to your big toe.
- Walk Barefoot. Think of your shoes as mini-casts. They hold your foot in a particular shape. Occasionally, you should walk around barefoot or in minimalist footwear, so you would exercise the muscles in your feet during body movement.