Exercises for healthy feet

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Healthy Feet: Preventing and treating common foot problems
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Get your copy of Healthy Feet: Preventing and treating common foot problems

Do your arches ache or your heels hurt? Got gout or battling bursitis? If so, you are among the three out of four Americans who will suffer some kind of foot ailment in their lifetime. This Special Health Report covers the most common foot problems and helps you prevent and treat them.

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Exercising your feet on a regular basis not only improves overall foot health, but may also reduce your risk for injury. Walking is the best overall foot exercise. When you walk, you put your foot through its full range of motion, from the time your heel hits the ground until you lift off with your toes. Moreover, walking is one of the best forms of exercise for your entire body. It improves your cardiovascular health and can help your circulation, muscle tone, and mood.

In addition to walking, flexibility and resistance exercises can also help keep your feet healthy.

Flexibility exercises. Exercises that improve flexibility help keep your feet limber and may reduce your risk for injury. Don't worry if your feet have grown stiff with age; studies show that no matter how old you are, you can still improve your flexibility. The easiest way to build flexibility is through slow and gentle daily stretches, focusing on one group of muscles at a time.

Resistance exercises. Resistance exercises are those in which your muscles work against some type of resistance, such as weights or exercise bands. Resistance exercises strengthen muscles, which, in turn, provide better support and protection for the foot as a whole. Exercise bands look a bit like compression bandages but come in various colors that correspond to the amount of resistance they provide.

Foot flexibility and resistance exercises can be built it into your daily routine. Most can be performed during the workday. You can do some while you sit at your desk; others require you to stand up. To avoid slips and falls, you may want be barefoot and have a chair, desk, or wall nearby that you can use for balance. Don't do foot exercises if they hurt. Before doing any foot exercises, be sure to take some time to stretch and strengthen the muscles in your feet. Otherwise, your feet will suddenly bear the brunt of all that activity, especially with high-impact sports like tennis or aerobics. And if you have arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, or structural foot problems that might affect your ability to exercise, consult a foot care specialist first.

Simple workouts to stretch and strengthen your feet

Limber up - To limber up your foot before attempting other exercises, try this:limber up

1. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.

2. Lift your left leg so your foot is off the floor and use your big toe to make circles in the air, moving in a clockwise direction, for 15 to 20 rotations.

3. Reverse direction and make another 15 to 20 circles, this time in a counterclockwise direction.

4. Repeat with your right foot.

Bottom of foot - To stretch the muscles on the bottom of your feet:bottom of foot

1. Stand with feet together.

2. Step back with your left leg so your heel is raised and your toes press against the ground. You should feel the muscles on the bottom of your feet pull gently.

3. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.

4. Repeat with your right foot.

Heel exercises - To stretch the back of your heel:heel exercise

1. Loop an exercise band around the leg of a heavy piece of furniture, such as a table or desk.

2. Sitting directly in front of it, slip your foot into the loop so the exercise band curls around your forefoot, just below your toes.

3. Pull back with your forefoot, flexing at the ankle. Hold for several seconds, then relax. You should feel a stretch along the back of your heel.

4. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

5. Repeat with your other foot.