When you go to put on your choice of footwear each morning or browse through the sandal aisle to find what you'll like best this summer, you're most likely not thinking about your health. As Harvard Women's Health Watch reported, poor footwear decisions can lead to life-long damage on the feet. Not only is this uncomfortable or even painful, but can make it less likely that you'll stay active and engaged in physical activity, which is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
To get back on the right path with footwear, consider these tips for improving the health of your feet, ankles and everything else:
Choose Support Over Fashion
Though everyone loves a good pair of shoes that show off their style, when it comes to footwear and your health, opt for function over fashion. The two things you should look for prior to making any footwear purchase are shock absorption and built-in arches, according to Natural Remedies and Treatments. Long-time use of shoes that don't offer these features can lead to pain in the heel and balls of your feet. Many people may even begin to experience planter fasciitis, when tissue in the heel becomes irritated and inflamed. Shock absorption and built-in arches are important for everything from a pair of flip flops you only wear out in the garden to loafers worn to work each day. Even though you may not think having good support in your summer sandals is important, each hour and day on your feet adds up.
"Shoes without shock absorption or arches can lead to planter fasciitis."
Ankle support should be another concern when making a shoe purchase. Most ballet flats, loafers and sandals lack any sort of sturdy support, which can be a risk factor for trips and falls. If you're not careful, you could easily end up with a twisted ankle or worse, based solely on your choice of footwear. At the end of the day, it's best to choose support over fashion.
Invest in Good Sneakers
Any athlete or runner knows the necessity of picking sneakers based on fit, comfort and performance. However, these factors are important for anyone – from beginner to competitive athlete – interested in purchasing a new pair of shoes.
To get the best idea of how supportive a sneaker will be, be sure to look at the midsole as this is where the majority of the support and cushioning will be, explained the Huffington Post. Ensure that this part of the shoe is thick, strong and supportive. You also want to be sure your toes have enough room in the sneaker. Most runners will advise having a thumb's worth of space between your big toe and front of the shoe. This is because feet tend to swell and get bigger throughout the day, especially if exercise is involved.
According to the news source, gait is another factor to be considered when buying sneakers for exercising. As David McQuade of City Sports told the Huffington Post, an analysis of your running form and gait can help make an informed decision on a shoe. You may have a neutral, overpronated or underpronated gait, each of which would require a slightly different fit.
"Running starts with your feet, so if you're already off alignment in your lower body, each step is another opportunity for you to get injured," said McQuade of City Sports. "Having the right kind of shoe that's properly aligning your foot really sets you off in the right direction for healthy training."
Avoid Wearing High Heels
High heels and comfort have been a topic of conversation for decades. Interestingly, the percent of women who report wearing high heels on a daily basis has declined over the past few decades. According to the Spine Health Institute, in 1986, 60 percent of women were wearing them each day. Ten years later that figure dropped to 50 percent and most recently, in 2003, just 39 percent of women reported putting on high heels each morning.
While you may see them as the perfect shoe to match your outfit, whether for a day at the office or a gathering with friends, high heels can have a negative impact on all parts of your body. One of the biggest problems women who wear heels regularly encounter is spine misalignment. As the Spine Health Institute reported, wearing pumps causes the chest to be pushed forward, which in turn, does the same to the lower back. This can cause both the hips and the spine to move out of place. In some cases, a condition called foraminal stenosis can occur.
Essentially, adding a few inches of footwear causes the body to move off balance. As it works to offset that imbalance, muscles in the calves, hips and back must work harder, which can lead to discomfort in those areas. The Spine Health Institute explained that stretching calf muscles before and after wearing high heels can help remedy the situation.
Consider Orthotic Insoles
Many specialists will recommend custom shoe inserts for those who experience pain or discomfort in their feet or even for those looking to take preventative measures against conditions such as knee pain, neuromas, plantar fasciitis or back pain that results from the feet. In addition to comfort and ideal, personalized foot support, these are a number of benefits that orthotic insoles can deliver, as the Spine Correction Center of the Rockies explained.
Two common problems related to arches are pronation and supination. The first, caused by collapsed arches, results in more stress on hips, knees and the back. The latter is when ankles lean to the outward, also causing stress on the hips, knees and back. Supination can be even more problematic when the arches in the feet are two different heights. Using custom orthotic insoles can help to correct both of these conditions, and, reduce the effects that they cause, noted the Spine Correction Center of the Rockies. As a bonus, these inserts can also help to improve athletic performance.
This year, make it a goal to enhance your foot health so that you feel great overall.