Healthbeat

Keeping your feet in shape

Exercising your feet not only improves overall foot health, but may also reduce your risk for injury.

Walking is the best overall foot exercise. Each step puts your foot through its full range of motion, from the time your heel hits the ground until you push off with your toes. Moreover, walking is one of the best forms of exercise for your entire body. It improves 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. 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

Foot flexibility and resistance exercises can be built into your daily routine. You can do some while you sit at your desk or kitchen table; others require you to stand up. To avoid slips and falls, you may want to be barefoot and have a chair, desk, or wall nearby that you can use for balance. Don't do foot exercises if they cause you any pain. 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.

For illustrated, step-by-step exercises and additional ways to care for your feet, purchase the Harvard report, Foot Care Basics.