Article by Dr. Joseph Mercola
Abstract: While you might not think about it, everyday walking is a repetitive movement that can lead to injury if you’re not using the proper form and posture – and if your foot muscles are out of shape. Simple foot exercises such as picking up a washcloth with your toes and rolling a tennis ball under your foot can make a big difference. About 15 minutes is all it takes to give your feet a proper workout. Your choice of footwear impacts how you move too.
By the time you reach the age of 50, your feet will have traveled about 75,000 miles. With this type of wear and tear, it’s no
wonder that eight in ten Americans have experienced a foot problem, while one in four say they are unable to exercise due to pain
in their feet.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that 25 percent of your bones are located in your feet and ankles, and your feet are the foundation
of your body, where most movement begins, many people neglect to properly care for their foot health.
While you probably know you should be exercising the muscles in your arms, legs, back, and torso, when’s the last time you
exercised the muscles in your feet? Without proper muscle strength in your feet, your body may become imbalanced or unstable.
Further, the most common cause of foot injuries are overuse or doing too much without proper support, according to an
American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) spokesman.
How to Strengthen the Muscles in Your Feet
Podiatric consultants to professional sports teams typically prescribe regular foot exercises to keep athletes in top working form.
You can try the following exercises:
• Pick up a washcloth, towel, or marbles with your feet, which helps build arch strength.
• Stand on one foot for ten seconds, which helps build core strength.
• Spread, point, and individually lift your toes.
• Roll a tennis ball under your foot.
• Stand on tiptoe, which helps strengthen your calves.
Whole body vibration exercise using a vibrating platform, such as a Power Plate, is another excellent adjunct to your fitness
program, as it can radically boost the effectiveness of virtually any exercise, including those for your feet. It is particularly useful
for improving balance and circulation, which are both beneficial for foot health.
How You Walk Matters for Your Whole Body
As noted by Katy Bowman, a scientist and author of the book: Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement:
“Walking is a superfood. It’s the defining movement of a human. It’s a lot easier to get movement than it is to get exercise.”
The key to remember is walking can either add to your foot strength or contribute to injury, depending on if it’s done correctly.
Joanna Hall, creator of the Walkactive Program, points out that most people tend to walk with what she calls a “passive foot
strike.” This is when your entire foot makes contact with the ground as one solid unit. According to Joanna, this kind of walk
creates three problems:
• It promotes poor posture;
• It hinders correct body mechanics from your foot through your knee up to your hip; and
• It limits your body’s ability to stretch and lengthen your muscles as you walk.
To walk properly, you need to concentrate on two factors. First, you need an active foot strike; secondly you need an “open
ankle.” This will create correct posture, all the way from your ankle to your hip, and upwards through your body. From a
functional standpoint, it helps you get the correct alignment between your foot, your knee, and your hip.
Proper tracking or alignment helps protect your joints during movement. This includes your knees, hips, and lower back. By
stimulating the correct muscle recruitment during your walk, you also give your glutes and leg muscles a better workout while
simultaneously lengthening those muscles. This will help reshape your body in a pleasing way.
Your Choice of Footwear Impacts How You Move
Surprising as it may sound, some research suggests modern running shoes, with their heavily cushioned, elevated heels, may
actually encourage runners to strike the ground with their heel first—a move that generates a greater collision force with the
ground, leading to an increased potential for injury.
Forefoot- and mid-foot-strike gaits were probably more common when humans ran barefoot or in minimal shoes, and may
actually protect your feet and lower limbs from some of the impact-related injuries now experienced by a high percentage
of runners. Writing in the journal Nature, Harvard researchers explained: “Humans have engaged in endurance running for
millions of years, but the modern running shoe was not invented until the 1970s. For most of human evolutionary history,
runners were either barefoot or wore minimal footwear such as sandals or moccasins with smaller heels and little cushioning
relative to modern running shoes. …habitually barefoot endurance runners often land on the fore-foot (fore-foot strike) before
bringing down the heel, but they sometimes land with a flat foot (mid-foot strike) or, less often, on the heel (rear-foot strike). In
contrast, habitually shod runners mostly rear-foot strike, facilitated by the elevated and cushioned heel of the modern running
shoe. Kinematic and kinetic analyses show that even on hard surfaces, barefoot runners who fore-foot strike generate smaller
collision forces than shod rear-foot strikers.”
Research reviewed by Michael Warburton, a physical therapist in Australia, even revealed:
• Running-related chronic injuries to bone and connective tissue in the legs are rare in developing countries, where most
people are habitually barefooted.
• Where barefoot and shod populations co-exist, as in Haiti, injury rates of the lower extremity are substantially higher
in the shod population.
• Wearing footwear actually increases the likelihood of ankle sprains, one of the most common sports injuries, because it
either decreases your awareness of foot position or increases the twisting torque on your ankle during a stumble.
• One of the most common chronic injuries in runners, plantar fasciitis (an inflammation of the ligament running along
the sole of your foot), is rare in barefoot populations.
• Running in bare feet reduces oxygen consumption by a few percent.
Choosing Footwear Based on Pronation May Be Unnecessary and Possibly Dangerous
Pronation is the inward roll of your foot that occurs while you’re running or walking. If you have normal or “medium” arches,
you’re a normal pronator (an inward roll of about 15 percent). But people with high arches are said to underpronate, while those
with flat feet (or low arches) are said to overpronate. Different types of running shoes are now offered that cater to your personal
pronation type, helping to supposedly prevent injuries, although new research suggests this may be a myth.
A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed no significant differences in injury rates among runners
with varying pronation wearing a neutral shoe. Earlier research has also suggested that, “prescribing in-shoe pronation control
systems on the basis of foot type is overly simplistic and potentially injurious.” Still other research suggested barefoot running
used nearly four percent more energy with every step, which suggests it may be physiologically easier on your feet to wear
lightweight—but not necessarily heavily cushioned—shoes.
So in choosing which shoes are best for you—minimalist, heavily cushioned, or none at all, for instance—your best bet is to
follow the principle of listening to your body and choosing the shoes that feel best to you. There is probably no “right” or
“wrong” answer, and you will probably need to try on many different pairs before you find the right fit. You may even need more
than one pair to use for different activities.
Daily Walking Is Key for Good Health
You may be surprised to realize just how little you move each day, which is why I recommend using a pedometer, or better yet,
one of the newer fitness trackers that can also give you feedback on your sleeping patterns, to track your daily steps. Setting a
goal of 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day (which is just over three to five miles) can go a long way toward getting more movement
into your life.
This walking is in addition to, not in place of, your normal exercise program. It’s even better if you can walk barefoot so you
can get grounded (grounding or earthing is defined as placing one’s bare feet on the ground whether it be dirt, grass, sand,
or concrete—especially when humid or wet. When you ground to the electron-enriched earth, an improved balance of the
sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system occurs.)
For example, one 2012 meta-analysis found that those who sat for the longest periods of time on a daily basis were twice as
likely to have diabetes or heart disease compared to those who sat the least. Yet, as soon as you stand up, a series of molecular
mechanisms at the cell level set off a cascade of activities that impact the cellular functioning of your muscles. The way your body
handles blood sugar is beneficially impacted, for example. Therefore, disease prevention for diabetes comes into play.
All of these molecular effects are activated simply by weight-bearing—by carrying your body weight upon your legs. So as you
get up and start walking, many good things happen in your body. For instance, according to a two-year study published in the
journal Respirology, walking for two miles a day or more can reduce your chances of hospitalization from a severe episode of
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Another study published in the November 2013 issue of the journal Stroke found that daily walking reduced the risk of stroke
in men over the age of 60. Walking for at least an hour or two could cut a man’s stroke risk by as much as one-third, and it didn’t
matter how brisk the pace was. Taking a three-hour long walk each day slashed the risk by two-thirds.
Regular walking has many surprising health benefits, not the least of which is that it gets you up and moving instead of sitting.
The medical literature now contains over 10,000 studies showing that frequent, prolonged sitting—at work, commuting, and
watching TV—significantly impacts your cardiovascular and metabolic function.