March 21, 2009
Exercise has a very important role in the general health and the quality of life of everyone, but especially in seniors. Seniors who walk tend to look younger, sleep more soundly and have fewer visits to the doctor. Walking for 30 to 60 minutes four to six days a week will help improve osteoarthritis and decrease the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and obesity. Walking is the top recreational sport for seniors.
Although many seniors may be scared to start an exercise program because they are worried about injury, the health benefits of exercise outweigh the risk of injury. Walking is considered one of the best forms of exercise because it's safe, cheap and easy. Unfortunately, foot problems can prevent seniors from starting or continuing with a walking program. Follow these tips to help avoid foot problems when walking:
1. Choose the right shoe. Make sure the shoe is supportive and bends only at the toes. The shoe should also be stable from side to side. If you can twist the shoe or fold it in half, it is too flexible. The shoe should have enough wiggle room for the toes, yet be snug enough to keep the heel from slipping.
2. Buy shoes in the afternoon. Feet swell during the day and it is better to fit your shoes at this time. The only exception to this rule would be if you always do your walks in the mornings. Make sure your foot is measured at the store to obtain your correct size. Feet change size over time. Most feet lengthen and widen over the years, increasing the shoe size. Don't assume you've always been the same shoe size.
3. Start slowly with an easy pace. Try a short walk of 15 minutes and gradually increase the time each day.
4. If you haven't walked before, make sure you start on a flat, soft surface. A great surface to start on is a level, dirt path. Don't jump into climbing hills until you build some endurance.
5. Warm up before walks. Gentle stretching before and after walking can improve circulation and prevent injury. But, don't over stretch. If you haven't stretched before, be careful not to over do it. This can lead to injury.
6. Avoid walking in bad weather. Cold, wet weather makes surfaces slippery and hard and decreases visibility. Muscles can become tight and the feet can become numb, increasing the chance of injury.
7. Examine your feet after the walk. Look for areas of irritation, red spots, blisters or areas of swelling. Self- treating can turn a minor problem into a major problem. Consult a podiatrist if a problem persists.
8. Avoid cotton socks. The white cotton socks you've been told to wear all these years are not appropriate for exercise walking. Synthetic or wool socks will help wick moisture away from your feet as you walk. This will decrease your chance of fungal infections, excess rubbing or blister formation.
9. Walk in well-lit places. The darker the trail or road, the more difficult it is to see and the higher the chance you will have of tripping, falling or twisting an ankle.
10. Don't walk through pain. As soon as you notice a foot problem, stop walking. If you continue walking with an injury you could be making the problem worse. If you feel it's necessary to continue your exercise program, try using a stationary bike while you give your foot a rest. If a few days of rest does not resolve the problem, see a podiatrist.
Christine Dobrowolski is a podiatrist and the author of Those Aching Feet: Your Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment of Common Foot Problems. To learn more about Dr. Dobrowolski and her book visit http://www.skipublishing.com. For information on foot products to keep you walking, visit http://www.northcoastfootcare.com.