5 ways to keep your feet healthy for better mobility
Feet are easy to neglect — but it pays dividends when you take care of them. As we age, chronic foot pain and common foot problems (such as tendinitis, bunions, and arthritis) can increasingly limit mobility.
But taking a few simple steps to care for your feet can help you preserve — or even improve — your mobility. Here are five of our favorites.Get your copy of Mobility and Independence
1. Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight affects your feet by putting greater force on them with each step. It can also increase your risk of having a condition like arthritis in the feet and worsen pain from other foot problems. Being overweight can also harm foot health by putting you at higher risk for diabetes or poor blood circulation, which can lead to foot pain and loss of sensation in the feet.
2. Wear good shoes. Shoe fashions come and go, but a lifetime of wearing comfortable shoes is one of the best preventive measures you can take to ensure your mobility. Wearing tight shoes or high heels now and then for a night out won't cause lasting damage. But when you know you'll be on your feet most of the day, choose supportive, comfortable shoes. Invest in well-fitting athletic shoes for running, aerobics, and other high-impact activities.
3. Moisturize your feet. The skin of the feet tends to get thinner and drier with age; callused feet can crack and bleed, causing pain. To keep the skin soft, rub a thick moisturizing lotion into your feet after showers or baths as needed (but avoid the spaces in between the toes, where too much moisture can lead to infections).
4. Practice good foot hygiene. Wash and dry your feet thoroughly when you shower or bathe. Cut toenails straight across to avoid ingrown nails. Use a pumice stone or foot file to gently remove calluses. If you wear nail polish on your toes, keep the nails healthy by letting them "breathe" for a couple of days after you remove it and before adding more.
5. Stretch your feet. People don't usually think about stretching the tops and bottoms of their feet, but stretches can help you treat — and prevent — foot pain. Stretches for the Achilles' tendon are also important.
For more ways to preserve your mobility as you age, buy Mobility and Independence, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
News and Views from the Harvard Health Blog
What type of mattress is best for people with low back pain?
Back pain is one of the top reasons that people begin to lose mobility in middle age. Pain can keep people from engaging in physical activity, making it more difficult for them to maintain a healthy weight and keep up their strength, stamina, and balance as they age. So treating and managing back pain that results from injuries or health problems is crucial for staying on the path of a healthy and active life.
Considering that most people spend roughly a third of their lives lying in bed, choosing the right mattress is essential for managing low back pain. It can make the difference in whether you can sleep at night and function the next day.
In the past, doctors often recommended very firm mattresses. But one survey of 268 people with low back pain found that those who slept on orthopedic (very hard) mattresses had the poorest sleep quality. There was no difference in sleep quality between those who used medium-firm and firm mattresses.
Soft mattresses, on the other hand, can also be problematic. While a soft mattress that conforms to your body's natural curves may help the joints align favorably, you might also sink in so deeply that your joints twist and become painful during the night.
If you want to find out whether a firmer mattress would feel better than the one you're currently using, try putting a plywood board under your mattress to dampen the movement from the bedsprings, or try placing your mattress on the floor.
Of course, you can also go to a mattress showroom and test a variety of models. But keep in mind that what feels comfortable for a few minutes in a store might not translate into a good night's sleep. A more reliable test is to observe how you feel after sleeping on different types of mattresses while away from home — for example, at a hotel or a friend or relative's house.
For more on how to preserve your mobility so you can stay active, buy Mobility and Independence, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.