Why your feet get bigger as you age

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By the time you reach your 50th birthday, you've prob-ably also reached another milestone: you've put 75,000 miles on your feet. You may reach this milestone much earlier if you've led a foot-active lifestyle. By age 50, you may have lost nearly half of the fatty padding on the soles of your feet. And you may be wearing a shoe that's a size bigger than what you wore in your 20s, in part because of weight gain that puts greater pres-sure on your feet, and in part because your ligaments and tendons have lost some of their elasticity (which also predisposes them to potentially painful ruptures or microtears). If you've given birth, you have another reason for the increase in shoe size: hormones released during pregnancy also cause ligaments to relax.

Menopause, too, can affect foot health. Unless countered by medications or exercise, the loss of estrogen and other hormonal changes generally lead to lower bone density, resulting in osteoporosis if enough bone mass is lost. This condition can raise the risk of stress fractures (hairline breaks) in any of the bones of the foot. Unless treated appropriately, stress fractures can worsen and cause the bones to shift out of place.

To learn more about your feet and ways to keep them pain-free, read Healthy Feet, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.