— Both of our trusted experts agree that — much like other delicious indulgences of life — our favorite shoes can be enjoyed for a lifetime in moderation. Dr. Novella stresses that our feet need time to recover from the strain we may put on them, which means that switching pairs when you arrive to your destination or stashing a supportive pair in your car or carryall may mean the difference between blissfully dancing the night away or spoiling a special moment with barking pains in your soles. Conversely, we should thoughtfully transition from a high to low heel, taking the time to stretch our calves, making the switch a little easier on our muscles and tendons.
Sounds like a lot of work? Well, kinda. But if you want to wear any pair you'd like, then, as Wharton's advises, "think like an athlete." If you condition your body to "prepare to wear," as he calls it, you may be able to avoid the negative short- and long-term dangers. In other words, we need to take the initiative to improve and preserve the health of our feet so we can comfortably enjoy the shoes we love for years to come. To take the first step
, he's laid out a combination of daily flexibility exercises and weekly strengthening exercises that may make a huge difference no matter which pairs you wear most often. Of course, should any extended pain or discomfort continue, be sure to consult your physician.
Seated Heel Raise:
Sit upright in a chair, feet flat on the floor. Raise one heel off the floor, keeping the ball of the foot planted, then slowly lower to the ground. You can increase resistence by placing a light weight on your thigh. Repeat 10 times, then switch legs. Complete two sets, weekly. Works the inner calf muscle that attaches to the Achilles tendon.
Standing Heel Raise:
Stand with feet together on a flat surface. Lift both heels, as high as possible like a ballerina, then lower to the ground. Repeat 10 times, for two sets, weekly. Works the whole calf muscle.
Sock & Weight:
Place a weight (begin with two pounds, you can work your way up as you build strength) at the bottom of a long sock. Anchor the sock between the big toe and second toe, wrapping the remainder of the sock around the arch of the foot to secure. With the sock weight hanging, slowly raise the toes to point to the outside of your body, then swing them back down to the center, pointed to the floor. Swing the toes to the opposite direction, pointed inward, then return to center again. Perform this U-shaped swing for 10 reps, twice weekly. (This video tutorial
may help, as well.) This strength exercise will build support on the inside and the outside of the lower leg.
Sit on floor with legs stretched out in front of you. Lift the toes and begin to flex the foot upward. Reach your arms to your toes, and hold for two seconds. Repeat 10 times, daily. This works to stretch the calf muscles.
In the same seated position, bend one knee toward the chest at a 90-degree angle, while keeping the other leg straightened. Flex the foot of the bent leg so that the toes are pointed upward and heel is on the floor. Grab the foot with both hands and gently pull the toes toward your chest as much as possible. Hold for two seconds and repeat 10 times. Then switch legs and begin sequence again. Perform daily. Stretches the muscles in the back of the leg.
Lie on your back, one leg bent with foot flat on the floor. Straighten the other leg and lift it as high as possible, aiming for a 90-degree angle with the floor. Using the foot that's in the air, press the heel toward the ceiling. Feel the stretch in the back of the leg, and for a more-advanced pose, lift the torso up and reach the hands toward the foot in the air. A rope or exercise band may also be used to assist with this exercise. Hold the stretch for two seconds and repeat 10 times. Then switch legs and begin sequence again. Perform daily. Stretches the muscles in the back of the thigh.