Prevent Foot Pain in the Golden Years

Aging, Healthy Living Steward Health Care

It’s a story many patients hear: Their doctors told them to lose weight and to exercise. Upon hearing this, many people will start a walking exercise program. Unfortunately, individuals often develop foot pain within a few weeks and many have to discontinue walking for exercise because of this.

Here are a few thoughts and recommendations:

1. Losing weight through exercise alone is extremely difficult. By the time most of us are “senior age,” our bodies are unable to withstand the repetitive stress and strain of exercise strenuous enough for weight loss. We must burn an excess of 3,500 calories to lose just one pound. That’s a lot of activity, whether it’s through walking or any other exercise. By itself, this is really not a practical or realistic strategy.The most effective way to lose weight is proper diet. Exercise is best used for cardiovascular fitness, to help tone muscles and strengthen bones.2

2. Walking is rarely the best way for seniors to exercise for cardiovascular fitness. The foot changes with age: Tendons and ligaments weaken, arches begin to collapse, and arthritis develops. Walking for cardiovascular fitness requires a very brisk walk for a minimum of 15 to 30 minutes, several times a week. Many senior feet will not hold up to this level of stress and strain, so problems develop. The safest way for seniors to exercise for cardiovascular fitness is to first get medical clearance, and then use a stationary bike. Walking with a very supportive pair of walking shoes is best done as an adjunct to help keep muscles and bones strong. This should be built up very gradually. It is important that we should never try to “walk through the pain.” Muscles and bones take much longer to strengthen with exercise than the heart. These are easily overstressed and injured if pushed too hard, too quickly. Low impact and gradual exercise help prevent this problem.

3. When exercising, it is important to use as many different body parts and muscle groups as possible. We should also try to use different body parts each day, so we can rest the muscles and bones we used the day before. This helps minimize overuse injuries and maximize total body fitness. Walking uses a very limited number of muscles and bones repetitively. Doing this an appreciable time and distance every day will often lead to overuse injuries. It is best to alternate activities such as walking, stretching, core strengthening, light weightlifting and swimming.

4. Remember, we are not exercising to train for the Olympics or to set world records. Although exercise might not necessarily be “fun” for everyone, it should never be painful – especially for seniors. Listen to your body. If it hurts, stop and rest. If it continues to hurt, get it checked. Pushing through pain at this stage of life very rarely ends well, and often ends up with an individual not able to do much of anything physically. Which is exactly what we are trying to prevent.

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