Your feet are the foundation of an active lifestyle, but odds are you don't give them proper attention.
"As you age, healthy feet become essential for being mobile, active, and safe," says Dr. Kevin Riemer, a podiatrist with Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "You need to give them the required care in order to prevent problems, reduce pain, and avoid injuries."
Handle with care
Foot care should be part of every man's regular health maintenance. One of the first steps is to practice good regular foot hygiene. Here are some guidelines to follow.
Keep your feet clean. This reduces the risk of harmful bacteria and can ward off fungal infections like athlete's foot. Wash your feet every day, and dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes. The skin of the feet tends to grow thinner and drier with age, so after washing, apply a liberal amount of moisturizing lotion. However, avoid moisturizing between the toes, as dampness here can lead to fungal growth.
Trim your toenails. Cut your toenails straight across, never at an angle on the sides, which may cause ingrown toenails (a condition in which the nail grows into the adjacent skin). Use a toenail clipper larger and wider than one used for fingernails.
Manage calluses. Deep calluses can crack and bleed, causing pain and risking infection. Use a pumice stone or foot file to remove calluses gently. Follow up with moisturizer.
Look for signs of trouble. Examine your feet regularly, including the tops, soles, under the toenails, and in between toes. Look for any changes, growths, or discolorations. If your foot swells or changes color, it could be a sign of poor circulation or even a fractured bone, and you should seek medical care. If you have diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, alert your doctor about red spots, bruises, calluses, and corns. Any mole, freckle, or spot that appears to have changed over the past month could be a sign of skin cancer and should be examined.
Stretch it out
Your feet need regular exercise, just like any other body part. Performing regular stretches can increase foot and ankle flexibility and strengthen foot muscles to improve balance and reduce the risk of injuries like ankle sprains. Here are three exercises to try.
Bottom-of-foot stretch. Stand with your feet together. Step back with your left leg, ending with your heel raised and toes pressed against the floor. You should feel a gentle stretch in the muscles on the bottom of your foot. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat with your right foot.
Top-of-foot stretch. Stand with your feet together. Working with one foot at a time, raise your heel and curl your toes under, pressing the tops of your toes against the floor. You should feel a gentle stretch in the muscles on the top of your feet and the front of your ankle. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat with the other foot.
Calf stretch. Sore feet can often be traced back to tight calves. From a standing position, place one foot directly in front of the other. Keeping your back heel on the ground and your back knee straight, slowly bend forward until you feel a stretch in the calf of your back leg. If needed, hold on to the back of a chair for balance. Hold for 10 seconds, and then reverse your foot position and repeat the stretch on the other calf. Repeat the sequence three to five times.
If the shoe fits
Another means to prevent common foot problems like blisters and heel pain is to invest in quality footwear that can be worn for both exercise and everyday activities.
Visit a specialty running store, as it will offer a variety of styles and hands-on fitting expertise. Here are some other tips for finding the right shoes:
- Have your arch and gait evaluated for pronation — whether your foot rolls inward, rolls outward, or stays neutral. (Many running stores provide this service.) This also can help determine your arch height (low, medium, or high) to match you with the right shoe.
- Your athletic shoes will usually need to be a half-size larger than your regular shoes to accommodate any swelling during activity.
- Bring along orthotics or other shoe inserts you usually use. Many shoe brands do not accommodate them, so you may need to go up a half-size.
- Feet naturally widen with age, so make sure new shoes have adequate width: Remove the shoe's insole and step on it. If your foot goes over the edges, the shoe is too narrow.
- There should be some wiggle room in the toe box. You should have about a half-inch from the top of the shoe to your toes.
- Walk around in the shoes for several minutes. They should feel right the moment you step into them, and not have to be "broken in."
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