Health and vitality starts from the ground up. But, unfortunately, many of us don’t think about our feet as part of the equation. After all, they’re so far away from the rest of us, and often they are out of sight, out of mind. Until they start rebelling from lack of neglect. And nothing can drain our energy and zest for life like the agony of da feet. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few tips to keep you on your toes and your feet fit and flexible for life.
Massage your feet and play with your toes.
Get re-acquainted with your own feet. Take off your shoes and socks and feel the shape of your feet and toes. I know, the first time I was asked to do this I was a little freaked out. Most dancers are very intimate with their feet, but I took ignoring mine to a fine art. Until I was plagued with foot pain, huge bunions, a hammer toe, and a Morton’s neuroma. That got my attention.
Start by gently massaging the sole of your foot, using gentle pressure where you feel discomfort or tightness. Spend extra time on these areas, gently working the sore spots until they begin to release. It helps to use lotion or foot cream. Continue by working your way up to the toes, massaging each individual toe. Then, interlace your fingers between your toes so you are spreading them your toes apart with your fingers. I know–it’s supremely uncomfortable at first but eventually it feels really good, and your feet will love you for it. This is to make up for all of the time (and the years) your toes have been squished together in shoes.
Strengthen your toes and stretch your feet.
Next, it’s time to build some strength while you stretch your feet at the same time. Sit on the edge of a firm chair with your feet flat on the floor. Keeping your heels and the balls of your feet firmly on the floor, lift all 5 of your toes. Keep your toes lifted and then try to spread them apart. Not all of your toes will cooperate, and you may have to give them a little bit of encouragement with your hands to show them the way. This isn’t cheating. Instead, it is sending signals to your brain to activate the motor pathways responsible for mobilizing your toes.
Practice lifting and lowering your toes multiple times, and notice the stretch in the soles of your feet. You are actually stretching the plantar fascia at the same time you are strengthening the small muscles of the feet and your toes at the same time. Pretty cool, huh?
Stretch your calves….a lot.
Tight calf muscles can wreak havoc on your feet, as well as your knees, hips, low back, neck and shoulders. Everything is interconnected and goes up and down the kinetic chain. Which is simply a fancy way of saying if one thing is off, it impacts affects every part of your body.
Stretch your calves by doing the classic “runner’s stretch.” Stand facing a wall with one foot in front of the other and your hands against the wall. Gently press your back foot into the floor. Keep your head up and your pelvis pressing forward. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Switch legs. Repeat.
Repeat the stretch again, but this time keep the back knee slightly bent as you press your heel into the floor. You won’t go nearly as far in this position, but that’s okay. This stretch targets the deeper calf muscle and the Achilles’s tendon. it’s all good.
NOTE: You’ll get far more benefit from doing these exercises for short time intervals several times a day rather than for long periods a few times a week. Not only will your feet feel better, your ankles will get stronger and your lower legs will get more toned.
I have a lot more to say regarding my new-found fascination with feet and the role it plays in our health and well-being. But, I think I’ll save some of those pearls for another day.