Often neglected, our feet serve us well - especially those of us who like to keep active. As the sun is starting to shine take note of these tips on getting your feet summer-ready. We advise how to keep feet healthy, how to choose the right sports shoe, and what to do if you have smelly feet.
As the weather changes so does our footwear. Out come the flip flops, and our feet and toes finally get to see some daylight not to mention a chance to breath. Your feet bear the weight of your whole body, so it’s worth paying them some attention. If they’re not properly looked after and you don’t wear the right type of shoe, especially during physical activity, you may end up experiencing pain and discomfort, causing you to walk differently, which in turn can lead to knee, hip and back pain. Feet devoid of attention can end up producing some pretty pungent smells, scabby skin, and more serious sports injuries.
When it comes down to choosing a new pair of sports shoe or trainers, you could well be forgiven for getting bamboozled by all the jargon and shoe-tech speak. Despite the jargon and marketing tricks, it is important to choose trainers that are right for your chosen sport or activity, as well as a good fit for your feet. The main difference between sports shoes is how they support your feet. Ill fitting sports shoes that are not designed for your particular sport or activity can cause serious injury such as back, hip and knee pain, painful blisters, Achilles tendonitis, and shin splints (leg pain). On the NHS website, Mike O’Neill from The Society of Chiropodists & Podiatrists says: “Trainers are the most important piece of fitness equipment you’ll ever buy, and changing what you wear on your feet can prevent injuries.”
Shoes designed for racket sports such as tennis and squash are heavier and stiffer than other trainers in order to provide extra stability for the side to side movement and stop and go action that is experienced during racket games.
For aerobics, a general fitness shoe that provides enough cushioning to absorb the impact and lessen the shock to the feet is required, as well as providing comfort, flexibility and support.
Runners need shoes specifically designed for running; a general all round fitness shoe is not going to do the job. Running shoes need to be a lot more flexible to allow the foot to bend and flex through each step. It’s also important to get properly measured for a running shoe in order to get one that fits your feet just right and that can accommodate the gait on your foot (how your foot reacts when you run).
For walking, any shoes that provide a good level of comfort, provide some arch support and have ‘breathable’ uppers such as leather will do the trick - quality trainers with heavy soles are ideal. For those who take their walking more seriously or enjoy hiking along more rugged terrain, it’s worth investing in a good pair of walking boots. They will provide extra support for your feet and ankles, as well as being waterproof.
For court games such as netball and basketball, a pair of general fitness cross trainers will provide a combination of flexibility and stability – similar to that of aerobics. They may be slightly stiffer than a general fitness shoe though in order to provide a bit more support for the side to side movement.
When shopping for new shoes – whether it’s for sports shoes or normal shoes – try to go in the afternoon as your feet swell as the day goes on, so they will be larger in the afternoon and you will get a better fitting shoe. Flip flops are great for wearing at the pool side or in public areas such as gym showers as this will reduce the risk of catching infections such as athletes foot and verrucas. And much as we all like a colourful pair of Havaianas when the sun is shining, it’s not a good idea to wear flip flops too much - they don’t provide any support for your feet and can lead to arch and heel pain if worn too often.
During sandal season there’s nothing worse than a pair of unkempt feet. In the bath spend some time exfoliating your legs, knees and ankles to remove old dry flaky skin and allow the regeneration of new fresh looking skin. Areas of hard skin or calluses on the foot can be removed by gently filing with a pumice stone or foot file, and after drying apply a foot moisturising cream to keep skin soft and prevent hard skin forming. It’s worth seeing a podiatrist now and then as they can remove any corns or calluses and give you feet a good rub down and pamper. When trimming toe nails, make sure you cut them straight across to prevent in-growing toe nails.
If your feet tend to have a bit of a pong about them, you’re not alone. Studies show that 50% of UK men suffer from foot odour. Smelly foot smells are a result of bacteria feeding off sweat, and as you sweat into your shoes bacteria starts to grow. Feet have more sweat glands than anywhere else on our body, and sweaty feet combined with wearing the same shoes every day can lead to a pong. People who are on their feet all day will have increased foot perspiration, and people under stress will sweat more than usual.
But there are steps you can take to improve the situation. Washing your feet every evening can prevent irritation and infection but it’s important to make sure they are properly dry to prevent bacteria forming. Bathing feet in warm water with tea tree oil for a few minutes each day will help keep them ultra clean and reduce bacteria. Giving shoes a minimum of 24 hours to dry out will also prevent bacteria from forming. You can also use surgical spirit dabbed on cotton wool between your toes after washing to help dry out the area (in addition to drying with a towel), and use deodorant on your feet or medicated insoles which have a deodorising effect. For sports and physical activity you can buy special sports socks which have ventilation panels to help keep feet dry, and you can also get antibacterial socks which are impregnated with chemicals to discourage the bacteria that feed on sweat. Avoid plastic shoes and nylon socks– leather, canvas and cotton will let your feet breathe. And wear open toed sandals when it’s hot, and go bare foot at home as much as possible. It’s all about keeping the feet dry and keeping sweat out of your shoes!
So think about what you’re putting your feet through before you go to the gym, and don’t forget to scrub up and polish up before you get your toes out. In the words of Leonardo Da Vinci: “The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art”. Don’t ignore your feet; they deserve a little TLC now and then.
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