Which body part (hint: the part is a pair) has 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons each?
If you guessed feet, you are correct.
Not only are your size 9’s a strong, mechanical structure, they play a key role in balance and body alignment. With about 250,000 sweat glands, feet secrete up to a half a pint of moisture a day. The soles of your feet contain more sensory nerve endings and sweat glands than any other part of your body. Yet taking care of your feet may be the last thing you think about as the root of a problem. About 75% of Americans will experience foot problems. Serious health problems such as diabetes, arthritis, nerve and circulatory problems often show initial symptoms in the feet.
Do your feet hurt after a long day? They probably have a right to — the total forces of your feet against the ground during a normal day can total hundreds of tons, equal to a fully loaded cement truck. Similar to a house, if the foundation is not strong, level and straight the structure will not withstand the forces of time and nature. Frequently problems that develop in the knee, hip and ankle can be traced to dysfunction of the foot.
Imagine holding a 10 pound weight in one hand, with your elbow bent… for 3 hours. Standing in one spot for a long period is more tiring than walking because the same few muscles are being asked to activate for a long period of time. Walking 10,000-15,000 steps a day will not only benefit health and fitness, but exercise your feet and ankles.
Arthritis, the No. 1 cause of disability in the U.S., is prevalent in the ankle and foot. When standing the ankle sends messages to the brain regarding balance. As we age, stiffness and less natural ankle and foot movement will negatively impact balance.
Besides walking we can improve our foot health by doing some activities barefoot and adding ankle/foot exercises to your daily routine. Doing some activities while barefoot will improve balance, mobility, side-to-side movements, and more efficiently transfer forces from the ground. Many feel that shoes inhibit natural movement of the structures of the foot and act as a crutch that possibly puts strain on the joints and tendons rather than allowing the muscles to create the effort.
Move all joints in three directions when possible: front-back, side-to-side and circular motions. Try these exercises to improve the health and functioning of your foot. Picking up marbles — place marbles or some other round object on the floor and pick them up with your toes, moving them from one pile to another. Add ankle movement by keeping your heel on the floor, picking up the marble from a pile on the left moving it to the right. Spread your toes wide then bring them together. With the foot flat, lift only the big toe keeping the others on the ground, then reverse. With your feet flat, roll both to the outside edge and then through flat to the inside edge, using only the ankle. Roll your foot on a small ball in all three planes of motion.
Start by spending small amounts of time barefoot, progressing to doing routine household tasks without shoes. If exercising with a virtual class, try the class without shoes.
Those working out at a facility may choose to try classes that are taught on a mat such as yoga, Pilates, tai chi or barre. You may fatigue quickly so go slow and listen to your entire body. Healthy feet are happy feet!