Did you know that shorter women have (traditionally) higher incidence of osteoporosis? The reason is, basically, the wearing of high heeled shoes.
Heeled shoes, even small ones, pitch the weight of the body forward over the balls of the feet, and the pelvis comes with it. The ball of the foot isn’t designed to bear your body weight and it changes the angle of the joints in your knees, hips and spine, while the muscles in the back of your body become weak and atrophied. That’s your calves, hamstrings and glutes – some of the largest and strongest muscles in your body. At the same time the muscles in the front of the body – the quadriceps – are overworked.
This mis-alignment creates friction in the joints (and pain) which leads to wear and tear and bone loss.
The smaller foot of a short woman has a lot to do with it the amount of friction even modest positive heeled shoes creates, but it is a bit of a smoke screen. Tall women, especially if they wear an equivalent lever for pitching the weight forward are also weakening and wearing out the bones in their spines and hips. It’s just that in the past tall women didn’t wear high heels as much.
As a short woman I was never a big heel wearer (maybe because I did yoga and dance when I was younger) because I found them too uncomfortable. But I did wear low heels and believed when I was told that we needed support for our feet and some sort of heel was necessary. Even though I’ve been wearing flat (barefoot shoes) exclusively for several years, my muscles are still relearning their true, natural length and strength but my body is so much healthier and happier and the aches and pains I associated with aging have disappeared.
The body is amazingly resilient and it can recover from years of mis-alignment. It does require putting health ahead of vanity and fashion. Are you up for the challenge of ditching the heels once and for all?
Did you know your toes are designed to have as much mobility as your hands? (Minus the opposable thumb, of course!) and there are people out there with amazing dexterity in their feet. Most people have very little mobility.
One of the reasons the toes (and feet) get so stiff is from wearing shoes that act like casts for your feet. The sole of most shoes is pretty rigid – you might get some flex around the ball of the foot but for the most part they keep your foot in the same position always sensing the same flat surface. Some even have a metal shank in the sole. Tapered shoe boxes are also very popular – but most people don’t have feet shaped like that, so the toes can hardly move when they are being worn.
Most people would agree that the Chinese tradition of foot binding is extreme but the deformation that comes from narrow toe boxes and stiff unyielding shoes is not natural. It is common – and therefore seems ‘normal’, but it is not.
The photo to the right shows a hallux valgus (bunion) that can occur from habitually wearing shoes with toe boxes too small for the forefoot and toes. The big toe joint is basically dislocated. And the practice of foot binding required the dislocation and breaking of the toes so they could fold under the ball of the foot.
Your foot should look more like the photo below. That’s my foot. I am fortunate that my feet are in pretty good shape because I was a skater, I took ballet and was on pointe, so they could have been a mess.
I was just thinking that one of the best things about wearing handmade leather shoes with highly flexible soles is the ease with which I can move my toes – anywhere, any time of the day. In this photo I am demonstrating the range of movement on my cobblestone mat with the ball of my foot draped over a large stone.
These shoes are by Soft Star, (Ballerines) but really, you should get the same amount of foot flexibility/movement with any minimal shoe, which doesn’t only mean that there is no heel (or zero rise). It also means the sole is flexible so that you can get as close to going barefoot without actually going barefoot.
I usually stand on my cobblestone mat without shoes of course. It gives a wonderful massage, different pressure and sensation on the foot, because even though my shoes are flexible, the ground I walk on the majority of time isn’t. I spend the bulk of the time walking on pavement and a level floor…these are casts for your feet too!
Why It Matters
It matters because problems with your knees, hips and lower back often begin in the feet. You may address the problem in those areas, but without considering how the way you stand, the shoes you wear, or how you exercise your feet – or whether you exercise them at all, is part of the bigger picture.
Most people are aware that moving their body in different ways is beneficial. We get stiff and sore (our muscles actually atrophy) from lack of movement. But we tend to not think shoes are preventing the full range of movement that the feet are designed for. Any range of range of motion that isn’t used, is lost: but not permanently.
For more on this, read Katy Bowman (Katy Says) interview with a Podiatrist. It is about children’s feet but the same principles apply. Then, check out Movement Revolution’s blog Becoming a Toe Ninja as the next step in getting more mobility in your feet.
But, be Sensible!
If you’ve worn rigid soled shoes with a narrow toe box and a heel (even a small one) all your life, make your transition slowly.
1. Begin by lowering the height of your heel a bit and get used to that.
2. Don’t trade in your shoes for flip flops (or any other shoe that requires toe grip to keep them on your feet, because you are just trading in one problem for another.
3. Be aware that your walking gait pattern will probably change so be mindful of doing hard hiking, pounding on city pavement or running while wearing minimal shoes until you build up more mobility (and strength) in your feet.
7. You can potentially get way more exercise in if walking is your form of exercise.
It is the difference between 1-2 hours of exercise and the potential of 10+ hours of movement. One of the ways we reward ourselves for exercising is by taking it easy for the rest of the day. See #1 for more on this.) We end up getting a lower amount of total movement than if we had walked for entertainment and recreation, to do errands or commute to work. And the best thing is that the more you walk, the more you can walk. It is definitely a skill you can build on too.
6. You’ll build a better bootie.
When you use an optimal gait pattern (one which uses your posterior leg and gluteous muscles) your glutes get toned.
5. You will recharges your batteries.
Studies have shown that walking – especially outside in nature – helps with depression and stimulates creative thinking while relaxing your mind.
4. It is the most efficient exercise you can do.
You use more of your body and more muscle groups when you are walking than you do with any other exercise, and with no cost – see #3.
3. Walking has little (or no) physiological cost, only gain.
There is a physiological cost to your joints, muscles and internal organs when you exercise hard. For example cardiac tissue gets micro tears from high intensity distance running. Your body repairs tears like this in about a week, but if you do high intensity workouts more often, the muscle does not have time to complete its repair and starts to build scar tissue. But you can walk everyday without needing recovery time.
2. It is free.
It can even save you money if you walk rather than drive or use public transit. I am anticipating a comment from someone who says they walk in a gym on a treadmill and pay a membership, therefore it isn’t free. Ok…but you *can* walk outdoors for free. And walking on a treadmill doesn’t use your posterior leg muscles as much, so reason number 6 – not so much.
1. Walking helps you avoid exercise crashes.
You know how when you are exercising hard and afterwards you crash? Maybe you have to take to your couch for the rest of the day (due to pain and fatigue) or are ravenous and end up eating a bunch of food you probably wouldn’t even eat ordinarily – or both. When I taught fitness classes, a lot of the time I crashed after teaching a class. Sometimes I rewarded myself with food, but mainly it was fatigue and low level pain that caused my crashes.
No one is saying you need to give up your class (or biking, running, etc.) However exercise comes with a disclaimer: if you constantly push yourself to the brink, or beyond, of injury and/or exhaustion AND you get less overall movement as a result, your exercise practice is bringing you a step closer to down-time, than a step towards health.
For a more detailed explanation of this you can check out Katie Bowman’s blog post Junk Food Walking.
It is Victoria Day Weekend in Canada: the first long weekend that officially kicks off the summer. Regardless of the weather.
We tossed around a few possibilities for an activity and ruled out a road trip. We thought of going to Saltspring Island for the Saturday market but, from here, it is a 3 hour ferry ride each way. And we decided we wanted a movement kind of weekend – not a sit-down event.
So we decided to cross off a couple of hikes we haven’t done in Vancouver yet – in North Vancouver. On Saturday we went to Lynn Canyon Park where a suspension bridge crosses the ravine. Impressions: tall trees, fragrant air, and stairs. Hundreds of them. And a ravine with emerald-green water.
After we got back to the car, we went further back down the road to Deep Cove where we immediately thought about staying. Forever. It is just that pretty.
Looking for a spot for a nibble, I jokingly said we should ask for the raw, vegan, gluten-free place in town and on the next block we found just that. They make gluten-free crepes with so many delicious choices it was hard to choose. I had Nutella and banana crepe – for the magnesium in the banana you understand.
On Sunday we decided to head out to North Vancouver in the opposite direction and go Squamish, to the Sea to Sky Gondola to take us up to wondrous views of Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains.
Two days of fresh mountain air, scented with pines and cedars, and being active. We had to drive to get to both of these places of course, but so much less of a drive (and no waiting in line) as we would have had we gone to one of the Islands or across the border. And the best thing is that we didn’t buy any stuff.
Watching this video shows how we are, for the most part, responsible for the shape (literally!) our feet are in.
Given footwear fashion history this is probably a silly question but would you rather wear fashionable but painful shoes that deform your feet, or wear shoes that are shaped the way feet are meant to look?
I know my own answer – what is yours? Before you answer, I recommend that you watch the video!
It was an enchanted garden at VanDuesen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver yesterday. Spring blossoms, Rhododendrons, woodland groves, lacy silhouettes, delicate flowers, last year’s lily pads reflected in still ponds and giant leaves – plantain, I think.
I was born at the peak of the baby boom and got to experience being a flower child only because my very small hometown caught up to the rest of the world so slowly. I have been a lifelong writer and reader, with aspirations of being a renaissance woman.