The entire body is completely interconnected, with each part relying on every other part to function as intended.
We all know this, intellectually. But because we tend to think of body parts and systems as separate entities, we usually don’t fully realize and appreciate the way these systems are linked together and affect one another.
For example: Why should you eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly? Most people will answer that question by saying something about weight management, or heart health, or reducing the risk of chronic disease.
Those are all great reasons, of course. But eating right and exercising will also improve the health of your feet and ankles, too!
And consider this: it is a lot easier to get regular exercise when your feet aren’t constantly in pain. It’s a feedback loop—the better you can care for one part of the body, the easier it becomes to care for all parts of your body over time.
But first, lets explore the relationship between food choices, exercise, and foot health.
Benefits of Diet and Exercise for Your Feet
Before we go further, let’s be clear here: “diet” doesn’t mean “going on a diet.” We’re not talking about temporary strategies to reach a specific, single goal, but the kinds of routine choices that you make on an ongoing, regular basis.
Some of the main benefits for feet of healthy diet and exercise include:
- Weight loss. Your body weight has a direct effect on your foot health. Simply put, the heavier you are, the more pressure you place on the bones, muscles, and connective tissues of your feet and ankles. In fact, the force that your feet must endure can actually be equivalent to several times your body weight, especially when running or jumping.
- Strong bones and connective tissue. Feet contain a quarter of the bones in your body, and they have to shoulder a lot of weight and force. Keeping them strong and healthy will greatly reduce your risk of foot and ankle injuries. Exercise and stretching for feet will be a big help, as will eating a diet with enough calcium and vitamin D.
- Healthy circulation. When circulation problems develop in the body, the feet are often the first area affected. This is true for many reasons, including the narrowness of the blood vessels, distance from the heart, and the need for blood to work against gravity to get back to the heart. Poor circulation means tissues don’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need, and your immune system has a harder time purging infections from the area. Regular exercise, limiting sugar in the diet, and avoiding smoking will go a long way toward healthy feet.
- Healthy nerves. As with circulatory issues, systemic nerve problems also tend to appear earliest and most severely in the feet and ankles. This initially causes pain, but eventually may lead to complete loss of sensation. That’s not a good thing, as numbness may leave you unable to detect injuries until they become infected. In addition to following a general healthy diet, making sure you get enough B vitamins, vitamin E and C, calcium, and magnesium will help support healthy nerves.
- Prevention of other diseases. Many diseases that increase risks to feet can be controlled (at least partially) through diet and exercise. One notable example is diabetes, which is the root cause of many cases of poor circulation, nerve health, and wounds in feet. Another is gout, a painful inflammatory arthritis that often affects the big toe. It can be triggered by eating too many foods containing purines.
Tips for Building Healthy Habits for Foot and Ankle Health
So now you understand a little more about some of the biggest risks to your feet and ankles when you don’t develop good diet and exercise habits for yourself. And you also understand that painful feet will only make it even harder to get your whole body back in shape.
That’s all well and good. But what should you actually do? That’s a little more complicated, but still probably not too unexpected. Here’s a basic game plan.
Developing that healthy diet
Now, unfortunately, we can’t really get super specific about a diet plan in this blog, since the best diet for you might not necessarily be the best diet for someone else. Our bodies are all a little different, and sometimes that means two people can have very different dietary requirements. Always speak with your general practitioner or a dietician before making radical changes to your dietary habits.
That said, there are some basics that apply for most people:
- Eat lots of veggies. You’ve probably heard this since kindergarten, if not earlier. It’s still true. Other foods that should be on most people’s plates include whole grains and lean proteins (from plants or animals). Some people need to avoid fats, while for others healthy fats can be a larger portion of the diet—again, it varies depending on individual needs. Be sure to check with your doctor.
- Be mindful of portion sizes. You can have too much of a good thing, and you can definitely have too much of a bad thing.
- Avoid excessive sugar. A certain amount of healthy, complex carbs in the diet is important to give your body energy, but too much sugar increases your risk of diabetes and other systemic conditions, not to mention inflammation throughout the body. Getting a good amount of fiber in your diet helps your body metabolize sugars at a slower rate, avoiding dangerous spikes.
Developing a healthy exercise routine
Getting and staying active is extremely important for your feet, as well as your whole body. It doesn’t mean you have to be an elite athlete, or you have to run around the block every day if you don’t want to. There are lots of healthy ways to exercise—the important thing is just that you’re out there moving, elevating your heart rate, improving your fitness, and strengthening your body.
- Find something you like to do that keeps you active. Some people like running. Others prefer going for a bike ride. But even things like working in the garden, shopping, or just taking a nice long walk count as exercise! Too many people think they “have” to run, then give up. But if you choose something you already like, you’re much more likely to stick with it!
- Shoot for at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, 3 days per week (to start). It’s better to exercise regularly throughout the week than to save it all for the weekend. Once you can handle 30 x 3, you can start to increase your activity levels by up to 10-15 percent per week.
- Avoid overuse. Certain exercises can be very hard on your feet when you do them every day—such as running. Give your feet a chance to recover by alternating high-impact workouts (running, basketball, etc.) with low-impact workouts like swimming or cycling.
- Wear the right shoes. They should fit great, be in good shape, offer enough cushioning and arch support, and be appropriate for the specific sport or activity you are engaging in. Note that most running shoes should be replaced every 300-500 miles. If pain is still an issue, you may need some extra assistance from a well-chosen pair of orthotics.
- Warm up before activity and cool down after. The former helps prepare your body for activity and reduces your risk of injury. The latter helps lower your heart rate more gradually and flush toxins from your system, which can reduce cramping and post-activity soreness.
- Don’t skip out on strength training. Don’t just do cardio. Strength training not only makes your body more injury-resistant; it also improves things like circulation and metabolism. And don’t forget the feet!
One important additional thing worth noting:
For some people (for example, those with diabetes, neuropathy, or osteoporosis), certain exercises and activities can lead to an increased risk of dangerous injuries. If you have any concerns about your feet or your physical health, please check in with us or your general practitioner before developing a new exercise plan.
Your Partner for Healthy Feet
Developing healthy habits is a great start when it comes to restoring and maintaining good foot and ankle health. But it’s not a foolproof plan, and there may be times when a specific injury or condition gets in the way of your feet feeling their best.
In those times, it’s best to call us right away for a prompt evaluation and treatment. The earlier we intervene to address these issues, the sooner you can get back to full health. We offer many foot care services to meet your needs, so contact our Berkeley office by calling (510) 647-3744 for additional information or to schedule an appointment.