If we were to ask you to name a general benefit of exercise, there’s a decent chance one of your first answers would be something like “weight loss.” This is certainly true, since regular exercise is a great way to promote and maintain a healthy weight. What you might not consider, though, is how it relates to your foot health.
We could write the longest blog post in history if we were to focus on all the benefits of exercise. In it, we would certainly discuss how leading an active life can reduce your risk for various ailments, enable you to sleep better at night, and help you manage stress. Actually, we could break it down into three sections covering the physical, emotional, and mental benefits from physical activity.
Instead of writing the next War and Peace, let’s focus on how exercise benefits foot health. Now, as you’ll see, there is a certain degree of overlap between this area of focus and your overall health.
Some of the benefits of exercise for your foot and ankle health include:
- Improved circulation. Your lower limbs need a healthy blood flow to receive nourishment, and exercise promotes strong circulation. Cardiovascular exercises like running, swimming, cycling, and even a brisk walk are all ways to get your heart pumping blood throughout your body.
- Limber muscles. A common source of injury in the lower limbs is excessive strain on tendons. Tendons are connective tissues that attach muscles to bones. When muscles are tight, they tug on the tendons and can lead to tendonitis. One of the most prevalent cases of this is Achilles tendinitis. Exercises, especially stretches, can keep your muscles limber and reduce your risk of these kinds of injuries.
- Stronger bones. Stress fractures develop when bones are fatigued easily. These hairline cracks in the surface of bone tissue are less likely to occur when bones are stronger. One of the benefits of exercise is increased strength in bone tissue.
Exercise is particularly beneficial for those who suffer from arthritis (including in the lower limb joints). It might seem counterintuitive to move more often when joints are painful and swollen, but exercising with arthritis enables your body to strengthen the muscles around joints, maintain bone strength, and improve your flexibility and range of motion.
Of course, the exercises benefitting your feet are full of benefits for your entire body as well, so this can be a smart move in many different ways. Let’s take a look at some of the best exercises for foot health, including:
- Cycling. Whereas running can elevate your heartrate and burn many calories, you can achieve those objectives from cycling, except you will not place as much stress on your lower limbs.
- Swimming. Swimming is an entire body workout. When kicking, you are working the muscles in the lower body, but the entire activity provides remarkable cardiovascular benefits. Additionally, swimming and aquatic exercises are great for those who suffer from edema (swollen feet).
- Walking. This might not be the most exciting of all the exercise options, but it is truly an all-star one for the health of your lower limbs. Walking is an ideal way to improve blood flow to (and from) your feet, while at the same time training the muscles to more efficiently absorb oxygen.
- Yoga. When people think about health and fitness, flexibility tends to be overlooked in favor of strength and endurance. Flexibility and range-of-motion, though, are essential for reducing foot and ankle injury risk. Yoga provides these benefits through the various poses held during a session.
There are plenty of incentives to live an active lifestyle for the health of your feet (and body as a whole), but it’s important to stay safe when you are physically active. There is always at least a certain degree of injury risk when you work out, but you can help to mitigate this risk by:
- Wearing the correct footwear. Now, it is definitely important to wear activity-appropriate footwear, but you also need to make sure shoes fit your feet correctly. This means choosing footwear that is neither too small, nor too large. Athletic shoes should also offer robust arch support and feature ample cushioning.
- Easing into activity. One of the easiest ways to get hurt is trying to do too much, too soon. Instead, start new activities or running programs at an easy level and then slowly build up the intensity and duration over time.
- Always warm up and stretch. Take some time before getting into the core of your workout to elevate your heart level and prepare your muscles and connective tissues with a warmup and some dynamic stretches.