Foot Health: The Variability Factor

17 Jan '18 Foot Health: The Variability Factor

I recently taught a class called “Foot Gymnastics for Dynamic Aging”. The class was designed to introduce people to the importance of their feet (the foundation of support for the rest of you, major role in balance and agility, etc.), and explain how paying more attention to our feet and giving them some movement inputs daily can help prevent the loss in balance and mobility we have come to expect is a natural part of the aging process (it isn’t).

I’m in my 40s. Most of us aren’t thinking about losing balance and mobility in our 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s or even 60s. And then we get to our 70s, 80s, 90s and we have a loss of bone density, loss of mobility, loss of balance and a fear of falling and we start using the senior shuffle to get around because we are so afraid we might stumble and fall and end up in the hospital (hip fractures in seniors tend to lead to adverse outcomes). If you can’t relate to this yet, think of an elder in your family – a parent or grandparent, aunt, uncle, great aunt or great uncle – and you can likely find examples of what I’m talking about. But here’s the thing: we didn’t all of a sudden get to an age and have bone density loss and balance issues. We started losing those things in our 30s, 40s and 50s because we weren’t paying attention to how we were moving and making sure we were using all of our parts. It’s the old “use it or lose it” adage.  Although no matter your current age or ability, with intention you can always make positive changes so I prefer “Use it or Lose it; Start Using it Again & Get it Back.”  Nevertheless, maintaining is simpler than restoring.

We have become so focused in our exercise culture on cardio, fat-burning, and maybe a little bit of strength work thrown in (but not for ALL of our 600 muscles, just the sexy ones), that we are missing out on the much greater variability of movement that our whole body ecosystem needs. Enter Foot Health.

In the feedback from my recent class, the two things that surprised people most were:

  1. That supportive shoes are not that supportive of foot health (but if you are a runner, are dealing with a foot issue, or have been prescribed orthotics for any reason there is a gradual process of adapting your body before being able to transition to minimal shoes that I’ll write about soon); and,
  2. The feet need more than just a flat surface to walk on; they need variable terrain.

Minimal footwear is footwear that allows the freedom of movement of the whole foot and the ability of the foot to sense the environment. But then the other part of the equation is “what inputs are your feet going to receive from the environment now that they can sense it?”

The answer, in many cases, is very little. That’s because most of the surfaces our feet are walking on are artificial. Indoors we have flooring and outdoors we have pavement. Even many trails are groomed to be relatively flat. So how are you going to give the nerves, muscles, and joints of the feet the input they need to stay strong and mobile? Here are some ideas:

    1. Begin making a point of stepping on obstacles rather than always avoiding them (Lego, toys, tree roots, rocks, marbles and more).
    2. Start mobilising your feet while doing dishes or watching Netflix. Use balls, marbles, and rocks of various shapes and sizes. Start with larger and softer and progress. Think both static holds with your foot changing joint positions by deforming around the object as well as rolling the foot around the object. Here is a video with some ideas.
    3. Cobblestone mats. These are great for walking on, or using while working at your stand up workstation. You can purchase very expensive designer cobblestone mats on amazon, OR you can get one on the cheap with the DIY version in this video.
    4. Before you know it your search of interesting terrain will make walking to the store an adventure. Here are some examples from a recent walk in town.










Foot moguls anyone?








Step on the cracks!

(Hard to see but there is about a 2-inch rise in this crack in the pavement).











Enjoy! I’d love to hear from you about your experience with this. If you are interested in Whole Body Health starting with the Feet (and Knees and Hips) you might be interested in my 5-week lunch class, Foot Gymnastics for Dynamic Aging, starting soon!



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