From hormones to heart health, we’ve rounded up the best expert advice you and your family need to stay in top health this month
If you spent your youth tottering about in highheels, it’s time you paid more attention to the lower half of your legs. According to research by footcare brand Scholl, 87 percent of people in the UK experience at least one foot condition in their lifetime. So, while it might not be the most glamorous of subjects to talk about at the dinner table (research also shows that 33 percent of us are actively embarrassed by our feet), we need to open up a conversation around footcare, especially as we age. Here’s our guide on how, and why, you should swot up on it.
“Arthritis is, to some extent, a completely normal development as we age,” says Dr Hill, a sports podiatrist at The Wilmslow Hospital. “But if we look after our feet, the less severe or symptomatic it will be. High heels worn for prolonged periods of time over several years, rather than just for special occasions, has been proven to contribute to the development of arthritis in the feet.”
“The arch is a crucial structural part of our foot,” says physiotherapist Jemima Munro (footactive.co.uk). “It bears the weight of our bodies on every step we take. If you over-pronate (inward rolling of the feet) this can cause excess strain on not only the feet but also the ankles, knees, hips and back.” A person with overpronation looking for supportive shoes may want to have both of their feet measured, wear thin socks when shoe shopping and look for shoes that offer extra arch support.
If the shoe fits
“Once you have a problem with your feet, it can quite easily become chronic,” says Dr Hill. “Good foot health also has implications for balance, so it’s important to pay attention to this part of the body as we age. Even if you know you have arthritis in your feet, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise. Mix up your exercise routine so you use different muscle groups and joints. Doing the same thing all the time can make you more likely to have an injury.”
“Weight-bearing exercise is known to help improve bone density,” says Dr Hill. “But balance it with other low-impact activities such as cycling, swimming or Pilates which can help prevent injuries. You should aim to do 30 minutes of this type of exercise a day.”
Toe the line
“A person’s gait is unique to the individual and developed from a young age,” says Dr Hill. “There’s no right or wrong way to walk or run, and research has shown that unless it’s causing pain or recurrent injury, then it shouldn’t be fixed. However, as we age, our gait can alter as a result of an injury, arthritis or surgery, such as a joint replacement. If you want to improve it, then see a podiatrist who specialises in gait analysis and biomechanics. They can assess you and arrange for you have exercise therapy, give footwear advice or prescribe orthoses, which are insoles that are fitted into your shoes to improve your foot function and gait.”
“Unsupported feet can lead to injuries,” says Jemima. “Plantar fasciitis and back pain are the most common complaints. Plantar fasciitis happens when the tendon is overstretched and becomes inflamed. Supporting it with insoles can help relieve the condition and also help align the rest of your body.”
Start on the right foot
“Stretching can improve flexibility and the range of movement at the joints,” says Dr Hill. “Whereas, strengthening exercises can increase stability and strength. There are a range of muscles that are intrinsic and extrinsic to the foot and ankle, so it’s a good idea to think about these areas. A podiatrist or physiotherapist could set you up with a routine for you to follow with a mix of both. You should always make sure that the podiatrist you see is HCPC registered before you book an appointment.”
Want to test it out? The NHS has a few simple exercises to help you regain or improve your balance. Head to nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/ balance-exercises/ to give it a go.
4 ways to put your feet first
Here are a few ways you can give your feet some TLC, with these four essential tips from podiatrist Tracy Byrne.
1. Keep them warm
“Chilblains are painful, red, itchy swellings that develop on your extremities, such as the tips of your toes,” says Tracy. “They’re exacerbated by abrupt changes in temperature, so keeping your feet warm by wearing socks or keeping an extra blanket over your feet can be helpful.”
2. Break-up with polish
“Nail polish and artificial nails can be dehydrating and can put you at risk of developing a nail fungus,” says Tracy. “This can cause ridging, scaling, brittleness, discolouration and white flecks. Give your nails a breather and allow them to rest and repair every month or so. Try a polish such as Nailner Breathable Nail Polish in Rosy Red (£9.99, boots.com), which is designed to allow oxygen to pass through the nail, so it helps to keep them healthy.”
3. Scrub up
“Boots and trainers can cause hard skin to build-up that, if not treated, can develop into callus and even cracked and bleeding heels,” says Tracy. “Exfoliation keeps your feet healthy and happy.” Try Footner Exfoliating Socks, £19.99, superdrug.com.
4. Refresh them
“The best creams to combat dryness and slough away dead skin cells on our feet are much richer than the creams and lotions we’d typically use on the rest of our body,” says Tracy. Try Flexitol Heel Balm, £5.09, superdrug.com.
20 seconds spare?
“The best exercise for the foot and ankle is single-leg balancing to help improve what we call ‘proprioception’,” says Dr Hill. “Balance on one foot initially with your eyes open, then progress to eyes closed as it becomes easier. You can then challenge your proprioception further by using a wobble balance board. Start off balancing for 20 seconds, then keep adding time onto that. You’ll soon see an improvement.”