The title of my article is not an idiom. I’m not going to advise jumping feet first into an activity with little or no hesitation. I will discuss the imperative to make our feet a priority when we walk or run for exercise or as a pastime.
I learned the sore way that a fitting investment in our feet generates a good ROI. We’re not victims of marketing when we buy the right shoes, though no doubt savvy marketing has increased their cost. Nor are we dupes of advertising when we replace our shoes after extended wear. Just as the treads on car tires wear out, so too do the soles of our shoes. Vancouver podiatrist Joseph Stern says running shoes last 300-500 miles, walking ones 400-600.
- Get our feet measured every few years as they enlarge with age.
- Because our feet tend to swell as the day goes on, shop in the mid to late afternoon.
- Try on shoes with the same type of socks we’ll wear with them.
- Press on the top of the shoe to test for a half-inch space between our longest toe and the shoe’s end. Pay attention to width not just length.
- Matching shoes to different activities, e.g. tennis and golf, is not a marketing ruse. And while running shoes suit walking, walking shoes are no substitute for running.
- Most important: new shoes must be wholly comfortable at the outset. There’s no break-in period.
Appropriate footwear alone, however, is no guarantee against missteps and injuries. After Nina stumbled twice in Scottsdale last year, triggering memories of my own falls, I thought a lot about walking. And I realized no one ever taught me to walk. I took lessons to learn how to swim, ride a bike, play a variety of sports, drive a car (with a stick shift) and so on. But no lessons on how to walk. Time to consult google.
My online search generated numerous videos and articles with instructions on correct technique and gait. In summary, here’s what I learned: hold our head high, eyes looking at the horizon, not down to our feet. Elongate our spine (i.e., stand tall). Draw our shoulders back and relax them. Engage our core muscles by pulling our navel in toward our spine. Swing our arms smoothly from our shoulders, not elbows. Maintain a steady heel-to-toe gait: make gentle heel contact followed by a controlled rolling of the forefoot to a flat, forward facing position.
Although the benefits of walking are universally touted, opinions vary on frequency and distance. Many guidelines prescribe 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day, yet it takes about an hour and 40 minutes, depending on our stride and pace, to satisfy the oft recommended 10,000 steps daily (close to 5 mi/8 km). Research from Harvard Medical School suggests “if you’re over 50, walking 4,000 to 7,500 steps a day is a significant boost not only to build longevity but a great way to improve your overall health.” If we believe movement is medicine, then the more often we use our feet — to avoid being sedentary — the better.
Given the intricacy of the human foot, with its 26 bones, 33 joints and complex matrix of ligaments, tendons and muscles, it’s no surprise to find out foot pain affects approximately one in four older people. Since our feet are the catalyst for mobility and healthy living, we must declare feet first — in all respects. •
P.S. Even what we eat affects our feet. “Foods that specifically support healthy feet include almonds, berries, salmon, and leafy green vegetables.”