Look after your feet and they will look after you. Fair enough. Especially as it’s full-on walking season. On which note, I hope you’re all managing to get out each day if only for a short walk. Ideally, for a long walk. Preferably an hour a day.
We all know that movement is good but until very recently no one knew why or how much. Research from York University, published two weeks ago, found moderate intensity exercise of an hour a day changed the way immune (white blood) cells behave, making them more robust – and more effective at countering infection and injury. The changes (which take place deep inside bone marrow) were visible after 6-8 weeks of an hour’s daily ‘moderate’ exercise.
‘Moderate and persistent exercise not only improves metabolic health, but also will improve immune health in the long run,’ explained York Research Chair, Prof Ali Abdul Sater, adding that many cancers, heart disease, diabetes and auto-immune diseases usually begin because of a mistaken inflammatory response. Exercise, it appears, helps immune cells behave both more effectively and more appropriately – neither over-reacting nor under-reacting. This study was done in mice but the researchers are confident that the same mechanism takes place within all animals (including humans).
Dr Jacob Teitelbaum, an expert on overcoming fatigue who read the study, urged everyone to go for a walk in the sunshine. We love it when our health and happiness can be enhanced with really simple (and enjoyable) measures.
But how can we enjoy our walks if our feet hurt? I spoke to a podiatrist recently (while sorting out my son’s in-grown toe nail) who shared a few simple tips:
Make sure your walking footwear is as comfortable as possible, and keep the high heels for parties only.
Walk barefoot (or in socks) at home
On long walks, remove your boots and socks, let both air/dry (while you’re eating your sandwich perhaps). Or swap to a fresh pair of socks.
On sand and grass, walk barefoot. I wrote about barefoot walking here.
Try walking on the balls of your feet (fairy feet walking) round the house. Walking on tippy toes, incidentally, has also been shown to make us feel uplifted (in both ways!).
Practice toe curls (curling your toes upwards and downwards) and ankle turns (turning your feet from the ankle, clockwise and anti-clockwise)
Keep toenails short and trim them weekly (straight across, not shaped)
If your feet hurt, stop and investigate. Apply blister plasters before a blister has fully developed, pumice away callouses and use corn pads if need be.
If you’re walking for long distances, invest not only in the right footwear but in the right socks. You want socks with cushioning to prevent blisters, that snugly fit your feet (and won’t shift around), and that wick away excess moisture. I’m currently wearing Bridgedale lightweight (for summer) but the budget option getting great reviews are these at Decathalon (out of stock for most sizes at the moment, apologies!). More reviews of walking socks here . Incidentally I wear walking socks for any walk over 30 minutes and I haven’t had a blister for years.
Every now and then, put your feet up for a few minutes (right up, legs and all, against a wall ideally).
Massage your feet a few times a week with something delicious. I’m using Weleda pomegranate oil (my current obsession), but petroleum jelly/Vaseline is just fine too. Don’t put oil between the toes where you want the skin to be as dry as possible.
If your feet are troubling you, don’t keep walking on them – visit a podiatrist and have them treated.
Our feet are extraordinary things with hundreds of bones, muscles, tendons and joints. We give them less attention than our teeth, but (in my view) they deserve just as much love and care! Please share any feet-preserving tips, or thoughts on your favourite walking socks, in the comment box.
Moving up from our feet to our stomach (and brain), all walkers need something to snack on. So before I sign off, here’s my top tip for a walking snack based on some new research: Nuts! Walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios and pecans appear to improve blood flow to the brain, helping keep memory sharp as we age.
In this study, adults over the age of 65 that ate 60g of the above nuts every day for 16 weeks showed greater blood flow in various brain areas, including the left frontal lobe, the bilateral prefrontal cortex, and the frontal lobe. Crucially, they were able to remember 16% more words in a verbal memory task than a non-nut-munching group. The researchers think that eating nuts keeps blood vessels in the brain healthy which could lower the inflammation that impairs our memory.
So there we have it. Look after your feet. Walk on them for an hour a day. Take a handful of nuts to chomp on route. What’s not to like?
I’m off walking in the Alps and the back-end of Finland this summer. I’ll be investigating the power of sauna and reporting back in September.
I wish you all a wonderful summer!