Foot Fitness: Strength & Mobility for Aging Feet
You know it’s important to stay fit for the health of your heart and muscles. But you may not know that foot fitness is just as vital as we age. Our daily locomotion depends on the strength and stability of our feet.
Weakness or immobility in the feet can cause pain farther up in our bodies, mainly in the knees, hips, back, and neck. Over time, poor foot fitness may lead to a host of issues. Conditions such as arthritis, bunions, plantar fasciitis, stiffness, cramping, numbness, and tingling make everyday movement difficult and can reduce quality of life.
Let’s take a look at how our feet change as we age and what we can do to keep them strong and fit.
With aging come natural changes to our feet. For instance, it’s not uncommon to experience an increase in the length or width of the feet. Over time, the body’s ligaments and tendons lose their strength and ability to spring back. In feet, this manifests as a decrease or ‘’falling’’ of the arch, which flattens and lengthens the foot and toes. The result: often an increase in shoe size by a half-size or more.
At the same time, we also lose some of the cushioned layer in our feet that protects them from daily pounding. We’re all born with a certain amount of fat under our feet, especially under the heels and the balls of our feet, which allows for shock absorption. As we age, this fatty layer can atrophy, leading to pain in the ball of the foot and heel as well as the need for orthotics.
Changes to toe mobility, such as bunions and hammertoes, affect foot stability and balance. Other conditions, such as arthritis and circulation problems, also reduce toe mobility and function.
Role of the Toes
Our toes are designed to hug the ground as we walk. This enables them to bear the weight of our bodies and maintain balance as we move. The big toe plays an especially vital role in propelling us forward as we walk.
As we walk, the big toe is the last part of the foot to push off the ground before taking the next step. Because of this it also carries the most weight of all the toes, about 40 percent. Furthermore, the big toe contributes to proper arching of the foot as well as shock absorption. Loss of toe mobility not only changes your gait and balance, but also often leads to knee, hip and low back pain.
Foot Strength and Balance
While we can’t control all of these factors, making time to do targeted exercises to strengthen the arches, toes and ankles can go along way to improving balance and preventing falls.
Below is a 30-minute Foot Fitness practice designed to “wake up” your feet and bring awareness and flexibility to your toes and arches. Give it and try and then notice how much easier it is to balance when you have strong, fit feet.
published 6/6/22; updated 5/1/23