Feet are easy to neglect — but it pays dividends when you take care of them. As we age, chronic foot pain and common foot problems (such as tendinitis, bunions, and arthritis) can increasingly limit mobility.
But taking a few simple steps to care for your feet can help you preserve — or even improve — your mobility. Here are five of our favorites.
1. Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight affects your feet by putting greater force on them with each step. It can also increase your risk of having a condition like arthritis in the feet and worsen pain from other foot problems. Being overweight can also harm foot health by putting you at higher risk for diabetes or poor blood circulation, which can lead to foot pain and loss of sensation in the feet.
2. Wear good shoes. Shoe fashions come and go, but a lifetime of wearing comfortable shoes is one of the best preventive measures you can take to ensure your mobility. Wearing tight shoes or high heels now and then for a night out won't cause lasting damage. But when you know you'll be on your feet most of the day, choose supportive, comfortable shoes. Invest in well-fitting athletic shoes for running, aerobics, and other high-impact activities.
3. Moisturize your feet. The skin of the feet tends to get thinner and drier with age; callused feet can crack and bleed, causing pain. To keep the skin soft, rub a thick moisturizing lotion into your feet after showers or baths as needed (but avoid the spaces in between the toes, where too much moisture can lead to infections).
4. Practice good foot hygiene. Wash and dry your feet thoroughly when you shower or bathe. Cut toenails straight across to avoid ingrown nails. Use a pumice stone or foot file to gently remove calluses. If you wear nail polish on your toes, keep the nails healthy by letting them "breathe" for a couple of days after you remove it and before adding more.
5. Stretch your feet. People don't usually think about stretching the tops and bottoms of their feet, but stretches can help you treat — and prevent — foot pain. Stretches for the Achilles' tendon are also important.
For more ways to preserve your mobility as you age, buy Mobility and Independence, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.