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Foot soldier

Plagued by aching feet? Pick a workout that restores your body balance, improving gait and foot health, writes Vidya Balachander.

entertainment Updated: Jul 10, 2010 00:55 IST
Vidya Balachander

It’s easy to forget but impossible to overstate the importance of healthy feet. Whether we are walking, running or simply standing upright, the feet play a critical role in movement and gait. Consequently, they take quite a battering on an everyday basis. Even if you haven’t recently run a marathon — and your knees and feet are constantly reminding you of the fact — there’s still a lot you need to do to help them recover from daily stresses and prevent future injuries.

Know your footprint

The first step towards foot health is analysing the structure of your feet. A normal foot is neither too flat nor over-arched. Heath Matthews, senior sports physiotherapist at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Sports Medicine Centre, explains how you can understand the physiology of your foot.

“Put a little water on a surface, walk through it and then walk on a dry surface,” he says. “The middle third of your footprint indicates the arch of your foot.” If the middle third is very broad, it probably means you have a flat foot and need to support your feet in order to prevent impact on your ankles, knees and back.

“If the footprint is too narrow, then you may have a very high arch,” says Matthews. “You need to provide extra cushioning for such feet because they don’t absorb shock very well.” If the imprint is as broad as three or four of your toes, your feet are normal.

Invest in good footwear

Since feet bear the brunt of the impact when we’re exercising, it’s only fair that they are adequately prepared. Don’t cut corners while choosing footwear; the right pair is a wise investment. “Make sure that your shoe is not very stiff,” says Madhuri Ruia, nutritionist and proprietor of Integym in Colaba. “At the same time, the sole shouldn’t be too flexible either. The right shoe is one that can take on the body’s action naturally.”

Your feet are a good indicator of your overall strength and balance. “If the soles on both feet are not wearing out symmetrically, it may mean that one side of your body is stronger than the other,” says Ruia. While orthotic support such as insoles (for flat feet) and cushioning (for over-arched feet) may help to improve your gait, you can improve your balance — and your foot health — with the right workout.

Fitness matters

“Ultimately, foot care is part of your body balance,” says Matthews. “Make sure your workout has the right combination of cardio, weight training and stretching.” Ensure that you start each workout with a warm-up so that there is adequate blood flow to your legs.

Initially, running on the treadmill might mean additional impact, but you can improve your cardio performance with weight training. “Weight training helps to build muscle tissue and preserve your ligaments, which in turn allows you to run better,” says Ruia.

Truth about supplements

A diet that is rich in calcium and magnesium promotes bone health, which in turn means better care for your feet. “For vegetarians, nachni (or ragi) is the richest source of calcium,” says consulting dietitian Jyoti Lalwani.

Milk and milk products are rich in calcium and soya beans are a powerhouse of proteins, calcium and iron. In order to get your daily dose of magnesium, include whole grains and sprouts in your diet.

Apart from these nutrients, you need to have adequate protein in your diet. “You develop cracks on the feet because of low protein,” says Lalwani. Egg whites, chicken and fish are the richest sources of protein for non-vegetarians. Green peas have a higher quotient of protein than other vegetables. Apart from this, vegetarians also need to include whole pulses and sprouts in their diet.

An often-ignored nutrient that is critical for bone health is vitamin D. “Vitamin D3 helps the body absorb calcium better,” says Lalwani. The body synthesises this nutrient from vitamin D in the presence of sunlight, so it’s important that you spend a little time basking in early morning sunlight.