Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Happy feet, Part 2

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In my last post, I featured the perils of wearing flip-flops for long periods of time. This week, I’d like to add a few more tips for how to keep feet happy and healthy. Feet take significant abuse from the hours we spend on them each day, not to mention the havoc wrought from wearing high heels. ‘Tis the season for bare feet, walking on the beach, wearing sandals without much support and lighter, flatter shoes. So many exercise programs neglect foot muscles, despite the fact that our feet have 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles! That’s a lot of tissue for a small area. Our feet are the foundation for our body alignment and ease of movement, so it’s important to stretch and use our foot muscles just as we stretch and use the larger muscles of our legs, torso and arms. The flexibility and strength of our foot muscles also have everything to do with our balance. If our ankles are stiff, range of motion limited, and foot muscles weak, our balance will be substantially affected. Wearing thick-soled shoes for most of the day contributes to the above problems.

Walking barefoot is good for you, as is deliberately exercising your muscles on the bottom and top of your foot. Along with basic bending your toes forward and backward, you can do the following:

The American Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Society recommends doing these simple exercises to strengthen feet and toes and prevent foot discomfort. Dancers, runners and all shoe wearers will benefit from these exercises.

Toe raise, toe point, toe curl:

Hold each position for five seconds
and repeat 10 times.
Recommended for people with hammertoes or toe cramps.

Golf ball roll:

Roll a golf ball under the ball of the foot for two minutes.
This is a great massage for the bottom of the foot and is recommended for people
with plantar fasciitis (heel pain), arch strain or foot cramps.

Towel curls:

Place a small towel on the floor and curl it toward you using only your toes.
You can increase the resistance by putting a weight on the end of the towel.
Relax and repeat this exercise five times.
Recommended for people with hammertoes, toe cramps and pain in the ball of the foot.

Marble pick-up:
Place 20 marbles on the floor.
Pick up one marble at a time with your toes and put it in a small bowl.
Do this exercise until you have picked up all 20 marbles.
Recommended for people with pain in the ball of the foot,
hammertoes and toe cramps.

Sand walking: Any chance you get, take off your shoes and
walk in the sand at the beach. This exercise massages your feet as well as strengthens your toes and provides good general foot conditioning.
Watch out for glass!

This information comes from The American Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS).
If you prefer to follow along with a video, here’s a 12 minute demonstration that takes you through all of these foot exercises. Try not to compare your feet with hers- she was a dancer and has incredible flexibility and ability to isolate certain foot muscles. I believe she falls outside the norm – the typical person will NOT be able to isolate these muscles, but doing the exercises will definitely improve your endurance and strength and possibly decrease foot pain. Just as strengthening your gluteal muscles and keeping your hamstrings stretched can help back pain, stretching and working your foot muscles can decrease pain in your feet right up to your hips. See the video at
Happy walking, jumping, swimming and meandering on the beach and elsewhere!

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