Walking has become a popular form of exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, it is easy for people to stay six feet apart, it lets folks enjoy the fresh air and it provides numerous physical and mental health benefits.
According to Yale School of Public Health alumnus Dr. Rock G. Positano, DPM, MSc, MPH ’89, Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, founder and director of the Non-Surgical Foot and Ankle Service at the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, walking - especially enhanced walking at a brisk pace - helps with weight loss, lowers blood pressure, reduces risk of diabetes, reduces stress and increases a person’s mental health.
But like many physical activities, there are some risks that come with the reward, even when it comes to walking. So, before you set out on that next walk around the block, down the street or miles-long journey about town, Positano offers some tips to keep your most reliable form of transportation trouble free. The tips are especially important for people who are usually sedentary during most of the day and haven’t taken long or brisk walks regularly.
- Do not wear old shoes. As comfortable as they may feel, this is a major cause of foot overuse injuries. Just because it feels good doesn’t mean it is good for walking and standing. Older shoes, though more physically comfortable, actually make the foot a less efficient shock absorber which is a main function of the heel and foot.
- Avoid a totally flat shoe. It causes extra stress on the heel, Achilles, calves, shins and knees and can lead to discomfort and inflammation in all of these areas. A small heel (1-2 inches) provides better stability and reduces forces to your feet, ankles and lower extremities. A foot that is not working efficiently may also lead to lower back and hip pain.
- Make sure you are wearing shoes that fit properly. There is no such thing as “breaking in” a shoe. Either it fits or it doesn’t. Prior research has demonstrated that approximately 90 percent of all people were wearing a shoe 1-2 sizes smaller than their actual foot. Trying to fit a size 9 foot into a size 7 shoe can be quite a painful experience and challenges the 26 bones, 29 muscles and over 100 tendons and ligaments in the feet. Don’t fall victim to the “Cinderella Complex”. Fitting a shoe should happen in the afternoon, not the morning, when your foot is most swollen and gives a more accurate and comfortable shoe size.
- Check for swelling in the foot and ankle. Elevate your feet 6 inches above your heart. This will reduce swelling and can be done at night while sleeping. Don’t ignore constant swelling in the feet and ankles as this may indicate circulatory and vascular problems that should be checked by a doctor.
- Don’t sit for prolonged periods as the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia adaptively shorten and this places additional stress and tension on your feet, ankles and lower extremities.
- Cold soak your feet two times a day for 20 minutes. It reduces swelling and inflammation. Hot water can make the feet swell and cause more discomfort.
- If you have Type- 2 diabetes, you are more prone to these injuries as this condition predisposes you to have delayed healing and recovery issues.
- Walk, Walk, Walk. For many, there is no better exercise than this activity commonly taken for granted.
Information provided by Positano and his son, Dr. Rock CJay Positano, DPM; co-directors of the Non-Surgical Foot and Ankle Service Hospital for Special Surgery; New York- Presbyterian Hospital/ Weill Cornell. Rock CJay Positano is currently a student at the Yale School of Public Health.