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Most people want to have a long, and healthy life. This includes being able to experience milestones with their family and friends, and the freedom to move through the world as they see fit. Foot problems, especially those that can cause chronic pain, major deformity, or disability can seriously impact your quality of life.
Many of my patients as a foot doctor are elderly or seniors. As I spend time with them, getting to know their health history, problems, and concerns, some express regret regarding not being better to their feet when they were younger. Regret over the possibility that if they had been more mindful of what was going on with their feet decades ago, they would have a life of less pain and more mobility.
One of my driving forces as a foot doctor is prevention. The prevention of chronic pain and many other feet changes with age. Here is my guide to you, after my experience of years of treating elderly patients, of things you can do to have healthy feet for life.
9 Tips To Have Health Feet For Life Include:
1. Prioritize movement
A common phrase used when talking about human health is, "If you don't use it, you lose it." The human body will prioritize its energy, nutrients, and other resources on systems that are being used consistently. For those things that aren't being used as often, they unfortunately will slowly shrink or atrophy.
One way this is best seen in the body is for muscles. Let's say you start a new workout regimen, ideally, when you are lifting weights, or doing other forms of strength training, your muscles are getting larger and stronger. Let's say you then have an injury like breaking a leg, over time a lot of the muscle gains you made will be lost because there is little reason for your body to devote valuable resources to muscles you aren't currently using.
As we all age, the body naturally does experience some muscle atrophy or shrinkage. For people who are not doing resistance or strength training, this rate is 4-6 lbs of muscle mass loss per decade. It's critical that if you are in your 30 and on, to remain active, or increase your activity in order to lose the least amount of muscle mass possible and to have healthy feet for life.
Losing muscle mass in your feet can lead to different foot deformities like bunions and hammertoes, which at times can be so severe that it becomes very difficult if not impossible to walk without pain. Muscle mass loss is a huge component of disability and loss of independence in the elderly.
2. Spend as much time as possible barefoot
The majority of us in the Western world spend the majority of our days in stiff, constrictive, and maybe downright painful shoes in the name of "fashion" or "professionalism". A lifetime of forcing ourselves into shoes like this consistently can lead to bunions, hammertoes, heel pain, metatarsalgia or pain in the ball of your foot, neuromas, and more.
Spending some time barefoot during the day, especially walking or even exercising allows your feet to move and function as they normally would, without that natural motion or function being stopped by the types of shoes you wear.
Time barefoot increases muscle strength in your feet, which helps to lower the risk of the previously mentioned foot problems above.
Time spent barefoot also can help to stimulate the tiny nerves at the bottom or sole of your foot, key for reinforcing these nerve connections from your foot to your brain, and also for establishing new ones.
Healthy feet for life means spending some time barefoot as nature intended.
3. Make consuming the most bioavailable protein a priority
Protein from animal sources like eggs, meat, seafood, and dairy are typically the most bioavailable. Let's say you have 100g of animal protein and 100g of plant protein. You eat both. The human body is able to break down a much higher amount of animal protein, and then use these products for processes and repair all across your body. The one plant protein exception to this finding is soy.
Protein is key for healthy muscles and bones. Not prioritizing this macronutrient can lead to muscle atrophy and osteoporosis. Again weak muscles in your feet can lead to many foot problems. Osteoporosis increases your risk of broken bones.
How much protein should you be eating a day? The recommends a day. Prioritizing animal protein is such an important way to have healthy feet for life.
4. If you smoke, work on quitting
The effects of smoking on your body and well documented, and have been talked about for decades. Yes, smoking can impact your feet in life-threatening ways.
Smoking damages the arteries which can lead to a disease called PAD or Peripheral Arterial Disease. PAD makes it much harder for your body to receive enough blood flow to be healthy, to have enough oxygen, and to receive nutrients.
PAD in the feet and legs has symptoms like intermittent claudication, pain or cramping after walking a certain distance, and rest pain which is cramping or pain when you're sitting or lying down. Feet affected with PAD have a higher risk of developing chronic ulcers due to the lack of blood flow.
PAD that isn't addressed can lead to gangrene and amputation.
Quitting smoking is key to having healthy feet for life.
5. Wear shoes that match the shape of your foot
A lifetime of consistently wearing those that don't match the shape of your foot increases your risk of bunions, hammertoes, and other toe deformities.
Did you know that in medieval England, people who belonged to the upper classes or elites wore at the time shoes that were long and pointy. These shoes then and now were considered "fashionable".
Skeletons of these people were studied in 2021, and there was found to be a much higher rate of bunions in these feet as opposed to the skeletons of people who were of lower classes and were not allowed to wear the same style of shoes.
Yes, bunions do have many causes, but the type of shoes you consistently wear is one reason.
Barefoot shoes are designed with your natural foot shape in mind, with no squeezing of your feet into a narrower toe box, and therefore, these shoes are believed to lower your risk of bunions. Having healthy feet for life means not being swayed too much by what is currently in mainstream fashion.
Xero Shoes are one brand of minimalist or barefoot shoes that I wear daily.
6. Be mindful of your Vitamin D levels
Vitamin D is a vitamin that's critical to human health. One of the ways vitamin D affects your feet is through your bones. Low Vitamin D increases your risk of breaking bones, and those breaks take much longer to heal than normal. Sometimes these bone breaks don't heal at all after months and are then called a non-union. Non-unions many times require surgery and the wearing of medical devices to have the break finally begin to heal.
Be sure that you are spending enough time outdoors, in the sunshine regularly. If you live in an area that does not get much sunlight during the year or are unable to be outside when the sun is out, a Vitamin D supplement should be taken to prevent deficiencies.
Food sources of Vitamin D include cod liver oil, salmon, swordfish, beef liver, sardines, tuna, and fortified juices or cereals.
7. Make sure you're eating foods rich in Vitamin K2
Vitamin K2 has recently made headlines in the health world as being another critical vitamin to bone health. Vitamin K2 in its most bioavailable form is found in liver, egg yolks, cheese, and butter. Other sources include with smaller amounts of K2 include broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cabbage. Make it a point to include a wide range of these foods in your diet daily. If you are for any reason unable to, or if you are a vegan, this is one vitamin that should be supplemented.
8. Eat an abundance of whole foods, minimize heavily processed foods, or junk foods
Incorporating more whole foods, foods that are unprocessed to minimally processed decreases your risk of chronic diseases like type II diabetes, hypertension, heart attack, stroke, and certain cancers.
Junk foods are highly processed, so therefore have the majority of any key nutrients stripped from them. High amounts of salt and sugar are also added to junk foods to make them highly palatable and addictive, to keep you craving more.
Type II diabetes increases your risk of deformities in your feet, neuropathy, and PAD. Keeping a healthy, well-rounded, diet is key to having healthy feet for life.
9. Pamper your feet
Be kind to your feet and take care of them. Trim your toenails properly and consistently. If you are unable to reach your feet, search for a foot doctor who performs routine nail care.
Moisturize your feet daily and be sure to wear sunscreen on your feet, especially if you will be outdoors.
Listen to your feet as well. Unfortunately, our society ignores pain in the feet because it's seen as something that is normal. This couldn't be further from the truth. If shoes are causing you foot pain when you wear them, this is a sign of a deeper issue.
If you are having foot or heel pain during your everyday life, find a foot doctor or podiatrist near you to get to the root cause of this foot pain, in order to prevent bigger problems down the road.
It shouldn't be surprising that the tips for being healthy overall and having healthy feet for life overlap. Prioritizing movement, a healthy diet, and lifestyle, on top of wearing shoes that allow your feet not to be cramped or forced in a narrow small space are key for a lifetime with the lowest changes of foot problems.
Schedule Your Appointment At Direct Podiatry Arizona Today
Looking for a foot specialist in the Phoenix area? My name is Dr. Tarr, and I am the owner of Direct Podiatry Arizona in Tempe. To view my available appointment times, click here.
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Magazine, Smithsonian. “This Fancy Footwear Craze Created a ‘plague of Bunions’ in Medieval England.” Smithsonian.Com, Smithsonian Institution, 14 June 2021, www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/medieval-europeans-obsession-pointy-shoes-caused-painful-bunions-180977969/.
“The Top Reasons to Wear Minimalist Shoes.” Butheau Physiotherapy: Seattle Mobile PT Expert, www.butheauphysio.com/blog/why-wearing-minimalist-shoes-could-help-you-move-better-and-relieve-foot-ankle-knee-hip-and-back-pain. Accessed 8 Oct. 2023.
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