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Building and Supporting Stronger Feet

Holistic well-being encourages us to consider the entirety of our experience on this planet; it encapsulates the health of our physical, mental, and spiritual selves. When it comes to our physical health centered around the outdoors, I am a passionate advocate for natural foot strength. I’m not here to diagnose foot injuries or give medical advice, but I know one thing for certain: in the last 100 years, we’ve gone overboard with overprotection in our footwear for both our children and adults and we’re paying for it in so many physical ways. Before most children have a chance to naturally walk over the earth, for example, we’re putting their rapidly growing feet in puffy, toe-restrictive shoes (although they are super cute).

As an avid hiker and cyclist, I often get asked about what footwear I prefer. While I love discussing my personal choices for footwear — especially minimalist options like my Earth Runners — we must first consider how we’re supporting or hindering the natural strength of our feet. We need to consider our knees, hips, shins, and posture as well. Just as with life-long diets, what works for me may not work for someone else, and I’m all about finding what works for YOU. I am a huge advocate for finding a running or hiking shoe shop, such as Boulder Running Company in Colorado, that measures, observes your gait, and really listens to your needs. It is not hard to locate one in most large cities in outdoor gear or retail running shops. 

Courtesy of Unsplash

Being a minimalist, I do not love the idea of having a shoe for different activities; however, I do feel that’s necessary for proper foot health. I think too many of us take our track runners to a dirt trail, for example, or wear our ankle-high hikers on an easy path, limiting our feet and legs from feeling the natural undulations of the Earth, which leads to a weakening of important stabilizing muscles. There’s footwear for every occasion and it’s worth the investment and research to find the right fit.

Grounding
When we wear rubber-soled shoes on natural ground (i.e. not concrete), we lose connectivity to the Earth’s natural magnetic field. You may have heard the buzz around “earthing” or “grounding” in recent years, but the benefits have been around since humans walked barefoot for hours upon hours, sleeping on the ground, and sitting in the grasses. Now we live on concrete slabs and wear rubber-soled shoes anytime we are outside, which disconnects us from natural energies. I take every opportunity I can to connect with the ground barefoot. I prefer to meditate this way or just sit outside for 5-10 minutes at a time with my feet firmly planted in the grass or soil, breathing deeply and slowly. I sleep on a grounding mat (easy to find online these days) so that I continue absorbing those powerful electrons while I sleep. Do your own research and find what works best for you. 

Photo by Nick Scheerbart/Courtesy of Unsplash

Concrete
Okay, so when am I a fan of foot protection with comfy soles? Enter the most unforgiving surface humans ever created: concrete. I don’t know about you, but my lower back, post-ACL reconstructed knee, and feet do not appreciate more than a few minutes walking on concrete in my minimalist shoes or bare feet. I’ve learned this the hard way and always wear my Hoka shoes if I know I’ll be pounding pavement that day. Concrete offers no “give” or support — it only bangs back into our joints, so I recommend a good thick-soled shoe for this type of walking or hiking.

At Home Foot Care and Strengthening
Finding our strengthening and recovery methods takes time, but our foundations are worth it. I love working with my acupressure ball after a long day on the bike or trail. Try an Epsom salt lavender oil foot bath followed by “legs up the wall” to help with any post-hike swelling or soreness. This move is also great for low back relaxation and a gentle hamstring stretch! Aside from simply hitting the trail and going for daily walks, here are some great at home exercises you can consider for foot strengthening.

Our feet are made to be a durable foundation for us, with callouses included! Why? Because humans evolved moving over natural ground for food, shelter, and escaping predators and other humans without overstuffed, ankle-supporting runners on. We aren’t made to wear protective ankle gear all the time, or overly stuffed soles with “arch support.” There’s certainly a time for that gear, but it’s not for daily walking. I encourage you to evaluate your foot strength, start some conditioning/self-care, and then look to your footwear. Our bodies were built to move, and if we don’t “use it,” we lose it. Are your shoes hindering or helping? Happy trails!

Header photo by Jan Romero/Courtesy of Unsplash

Mental health and wellness are Kayla Fanning’s passions, and she strongly believes our environment and culture play the largest role in holistic well-being. She helps organizations and humans build happier, healthier lives so they can thrive and not just survive. Nature is where she resets and finds balance.

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