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The right step forward: How to build strong and functional feet 
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The right step forward: How to build strong and functional feet 

Overworked and often overlooked, feet are essential for our mobility and overall well-being. Choosing the right footwear, flexing the toes and walking barefoot can help build strong and functional feet
Strong and functional feet have physical strength as well as optimal functionality that are essential for a healthy and active life
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K/Happiest Health

Your feet are the unsung heroes that carry you through life’s crazy dance floor. However, they are not usually trained or exercised actively, which affects their physical strength and functionality. Paying attention to them can help you build and maintain strong and functional feet, which are essential for a healthy and active life.

Physically strong feet consist of well-developed muscles, tendons and ligaments that support the arches and facilitate efficient movement. These muscles should bear the body’s weight and adapt to various forces or stresses applied to them without you even noticing it.

“Stability, mobility and shock absorption are the three functions of the feet,” says Dr Sarika Jambhulkar, practicing podiatrist, V-care Podiatry, Mumbai. “The foot that can perform all those three functions efficiently is a functional foot.” With functional feet, you will be able to perform tasks like walking, running and jumping while maintaining proper alignment and a minimal risk of injury or falls.

Exercises for the feet

Being mindful and regularly stretching, moving and flexing your toes will keep them active. Try picking up small objects with your toes or scrunching and spreading them to improve flexibility. Exercises like toe curls (using a towel), calf raises and heel walks build strength in the muscles of your feet and lower legs.

To strengthen your arches, you can perform exercises like arch lifts, where you raise your arch while keeping your toes and heels on the ground. In addition, ankle strengthening exercises can help maintain good ankle mobility and prevent ankle sprains.

Pick the right footwear

It is important to wear well-fitting shoes that support your feet properly. Avoid excessively narrow or pointy shoes that can cramp your toes.

“My main advice for the young and middle-aged population is to choose footwear depending on how much walking they are planning to do that day,” says Dr Jambhulkar. “I have seen young girls wearing heels in national parks, which is really insane. Wear fancy heels only to parties, movies or dinners where you are not going to walk much.”

Balancing act to enhance feet functionality

Practice balancing on one foot to enhance stability. You can also use a balance board or a wobble cushion. Strike a balance between wearing footwear and doing activities barefoot. Walking or standing barefoot on various surfaces like grass, sand or textured mats is beneficial. It stimulates the sensory receptors in your feet and improves overall foot function.

“Kids below five years of age are highly recommended to walk barefoot on sand, grass or other natural surfaces,” says Dr Jambhulkar. “This feeds their sensory needs and strengthens the foot muscles.”

Treat your feet to regular massages using a tennis ball or foot roller and never ignore pain, as it can be a symptom of conditions like plantar fasciitis. “If you feel you should be active even when you are old, then healthy feet are the foundation for it,” says Dr Jambhulkar.

Takeaways

  • Strong and functional feet have both physical strength (well-developed muscles, tendons, and ligaments) and optimal functionality (stability, mobility, and shock absorption), which are essential for a healthy and active life.
  • Stretch, move and flex your toes regularly to keep them active. In addition, try to pick up small objects with your toes or scrunch and spread them to improve flexibility.
  • Choose footwear that provides proper support and fits well. Avoid excessively narrow or pointy shoes.
  • People, especially kids under five years of age, should stand or walk barefoot on various surfaces like grass, sand or textured mats.

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