May 18, 2011

How to Start a Fitness Walking Program

It’s Easier Than You May Think!

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve decided, or are close to deciding, to start a fitness walking program. You’ll find it’s both an enjoyable and hugely beneficial world you’re about to enter.

First and foremost, get your doctor’s approval to start fitness walking. Particularly if you’ve been a bit of a couch potato all winter, or have any health problems, it’s wise to secure your physician’s approval before starting any fitness regime.

Hopefully you’ve read our last blog on finding the right walking shoe and are now prepared to lace them up. Some other things you might want to bring with you while walking are a cell phone for emergencies, a hat, sunglasses and sun block, a water bottle (always good to hydrate), and your CD or mp3 player to listen to music.

Now my personal style is not to over-think a project like this.

So, for your first couple of walking session, let’s keep it simple with these three suggestions: (1) Dress appropriately. If it’s chilly outside, it’s better to have a sweatshirt and take it off later than to be cold. (2) For your first few outings, keep the walk short until you see what your endurance level is. Ten minutes is perfectly fine to start with. (3) And most important, have fun! Committed walkers usually start for health reasons, but continue because they find walking calming, spiritually revitalizing, and/or a chance to quietly commune with nature.

On these first few walks, focus on time, not speed or distance. For example, it’s better to start with a gentle ten-minute walk three days a week, then expand to 15 minutes next week and 20 the following week (or up your time as you feel appropriate based on your own ability). You will gradually want to increase both your speed and the distance you walk, but in the beginning, just concentrate on time. Once you’ve worked up to 45 minutes, then work on speed and difficulty, such as adding steeper hills, varying terrains, etc.

A good rule of thumb is to start walking three times a week with the idea of eventually moving to five times a week. At the same time, each week you want to add at least five minutes to your walking time. However, do remember that 10 minutes of easy walking is better than zero minutes. The early goal is just to get moving.

Plot your walking course. I prefer the park for its seasonal beauty and because there aren’t any cars to distract me. A quiet street is fine, particularly if there are sidewalks, but I find if you need to stay alert for oncoming traffic, it robs you of the joy of enjoying nature.

The kind of surface you’re walking on also matters. Concrete, gravel, sand and mall floors have different challenges and benefits. See what works best for you.

I would advise having three established walking courses. One being a “fast” track for the days you’re pressed for time and want to squeeze in a healthy walk; a mall walk for when the weather is annoying; and then a favorite “scenic” route through the park where you can really breathe in the serenity and beauty of nature. Having a few choices on your walking routes wards off boredom and lame excuses.

What is the best time of day to walk for you?
Some people like to do it first thing in the morning (and then come home, shower and dress for the day) while others like a nice walk after dinner.

Sneaking in a walk during your lunch hour is another good way to keep your routine going. Walking is a great stress management technique and you’ll return to work revitalized.

Finally, think about whether you like to walk alone or with someone. As a busy professional with a full and blessed family life, I confess I treasure my time walking alone. It helps me pound out the stress of the day and reflect on life. Of course, this certainly doesn’t preclude walking with my wife or kids on occasion. On the other hand, for many people a “walking buddy” can be a great source of disciple, inspiration and enjoyment.

In our next blog, we’ll talk about stepping up your walking program, the delights of using a pedometer, and the pros and cons of walking with your dog. Until then, enjoy your walk!

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Feb 7, 2011

Protecting Young Children’s Feet Avoids Many Foot and Walking Problems Later

Your Newly Walking Toddler Is The Perfect Age to See a Podiatrist

Over the years, I have been impressed that so many parents recognize the importance of bringing their young children in to have their feet checked by a podiatrist. Moms and dads seem to know that adult problems with knees, ankles and feet often start at a very young age, and that they seem to want to help their kids avoid this. Bravo to them!

So, at what age should a child visit a podiatrist? At Snyder/Stuart Podiatry Centers, we see babies just as they are starting to walk, therefore we can spot any irregularities that might need attention.

Why is visiting a podiatrist vital at such a young age? First, remember that the foot is a surprisingly intricate part of the human body. With many working parts, the foot has more potential for problems. On top of that, the feet of toddlers are complex, pliable and very soft. Any incorrect pressure on the foot – whether from shoes or walking — can cause a deformity that lasts a lifetime.

Did you know that within the first year of your child’s life, the foot reaches half its adult size? Those initial 12 months of his or her life is extremely important to the feet. A podiatrist watches for irregularities in the child’s development, as well as some of the more serious problems like Sever’s disease that affects the heel, Osgood-Schlatter’s disease that causes problems at the knee – both often dismissed by parents as “growing pains.”

More common among children are flat feet. If both parents have this condition, there’s a likelihood their child will have flat feet. However, small children actually have a little pad of fat in the arch area. It disappears over time, but can make a child’s foot appear flat. A podiatrist can determine if your little one has flat feet, and make recommendations to help with this condition.

Likewise, many young children start walking with their toes pointing in directions other than straight ahead, which is where they should point. If a child’s toes that point inward as he or she walks, this is known as “in-toeing.” The hallmark of an in-toe walker is that the youngster trips more often than normal. The opposite, “out-toeing,” is even more common. Most children outgrow these conditions, but if it continues past age 2, other treatments may be needed.

Another “popular” condition among toddlers who are just learning to walk is “toe walking,” or equines gait. Again, most children outgrow this quickly. However, toe walking can be caused by neuromuscular conditions like muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, differences in leg length, Achilles tendon shortness or spinal cord abnormalities. If this continues, the child should be evaluated.

The good news here is that most foot problems in children are either preventable or correctable with appropriately fitted footwear. There is a world of specialized orthotics and insoles that can help most foot problems. A podiatrist can help with this. And since most adult foot problems start as babies, early detection is important.

Here is a short list of things a parent should look for in their children:
1. Frequent tripping, bumping into things or falling. This is a sure sign of an imbalance of some sort, and is nearly always treatable.

2. Unexplained bumps or lumps on feet. Young children do not get bunions, calluses and hammerhead toes. Have any unexplained bumps examined.

3. Feet and/or leg pain. Yes, it is normal for all children to have the occasional“growing pains,” especially at night. But if it lasts more than a few days, it’s worth having a medical professional take a look.

4. Uneven shoe wear. Examine the soles of your child’s shoes regularly. Look inside and out for any signs of uneven wear. This signals that better orthotics are needed.

5. Check out toenails. It’s unusual, but children can develop in-grown toenails and skin disorders on the foot. Take a careful look at your child’s feet after a bath to make sure everything is in order.

Finally, if you have more questions about children’s feet, please call one of the SSPC offices or email us. Also, our friends at ePodiatry.com recommend the book, “Is Your Child Walking Right?: A Parent’s Guide to Little Feet” by Andrew K.C. Chong and available at amazon.com.

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Jan 31, 2011

New Year’s Resolutions Waning?

If ‘Exercise More’ Was On Your List, Let’s Start Again!

So, how are those pledges to hit the gym more often going? Signed up for that Pilates class yet? Done anything with that stationary bike other than hang clothes on it?

Let’s try again. This time, start an exercise program that is easy, free and fairly gentle on the body yet exceptionally effective. What is it? Something you’ve been doing your whole life: Walking.

This year, we’ve decided to devote the SSPC Blog to helping you to a healthier life, which must include exercise. For the next 11 months, we are going to focus on two subjects, “Walking For Health” and “Running For Health.” We’ll address one or two aspects of these exercises each week, give you all the facts, and hopefully make it easier for you to start AND continue, perhaps for the rest of your life.

So, since one runs before they walk, we will begin with walking. As physicians, we will remind you that any exercise program should have the approval of your doctor before starting.

To reinforce the value of exercising in general and walking in particular, here are 10 specific facts on the benefits of walking. (We are borrowing from Wendy Bumgardner’s 2010 article on about.com where she lists the “Top 10 Reasons to Start Walking.”) Read carefully. These motivating facts might surprise you. Here they are:

1. Walkers Live Longer. This works for me. According to Ms. Bumgardner, a 12-year Honolulu Heart Study of 8,000 men discovered that by walking just two miles a day, the risk of death nearly cut in half. In particular, the chance of cancer was greatly reduced.

Nearly all exercises, including walking, go a long way toward protecting the heart and the circulatory system because they raise the HDL (good cholesterol), recharge the immune system and keep weight down.

2. Walking Reduces the Risk of Cancer. Study after study shows that walking significantly reduces the chance of cancer, particularly breast cancer and colon cancer. For those undergoing cancer treatments, walking has been shown to improve the chance of recovery and survival.

3. Walking Reduces the Chance of Heart Disease and Stroke. This is a 2-for-the-price-of-1 that nobody should pass up. The amount of supporting medical research is profound: A moderate walking program for 30 minutes a day improves the heart and goes a long way toward preventing heart disease.

4. Walking Reduces Stress, Depression and Blood Pressure. Moderate exercise, like walking, has been shown to reduce emotional stress and depression. Other studies have shown that rather than one long walk, three or four short, brisk walks throughout the day can control and lower blood pressure.

5. Walking Reduces the Risk of Diabetes. Walking for 30 minutes a day cuts the risks of getting Type 2 diabetes in both men and women.

6. Walking Helps Prevent Weight Gain. According to research by Dr. James O. Hill at the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado, if you add 2,000 steps to your current activities, you may never gain another pound. (To lose more weight, simply add more steps per day.)

7. Walking Decreases the Chance of Impotence. We already know that exercise in general increases the sex drive in men and women. For men, walking 3-5 hours per week lowers the chance of erectile dysfunction by 30 percent.

8. Walking Boosts Brain Function. A study by the National Council on Aging found that people over the age of 60 who walked 3+ miles a day or 45 minutes enjoyed increased thinking skills and were mentally sharper.

9. Walking Improves Mood. Nearly all exercise encourages the release of endorphins, the body’s natural “happy drug.” A recent study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine showed that college students who walked regularly had lower stress levels that (a) couch potatoes and (b) strenuous exercisers like runners, which brings us to No. 10.

10. Walking is just as beneficial to your heart as running. According to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 30 minutes of walking brings the same risk reduction for heart attacks as running.

And did we mention that a committed walking program is a good way to lose weight, too? If adding 2,000 steps a day to your current activities maintains your weight, then adding 2,001 steps is the first step toward losing weight. It’s all math.

Speaking of numbers, many physicians are seeing that the truest indicator of heart health is a person’s overall activity level, NOT their weight or their BMI (Body Mass Index). In other words, a couch potato is more at risk for heart problems than a person who is overweight or even slightly obese.

So, as my grandmother use to say, “You’re more likely to rust out than wear out!”

In our next blog, we’ll talk about ways to work a regular walking regime into your busy day. However, don’t feel like you have to wait and read this before starting…

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Jan 1, 2011

New Year’s Resolutions for Your Feet

For ‘Happy Feet’ in 2011, Think Prevention, Safety, and Kindness

Here we are in a new year! And with comes a few traditional New Year’s Resolutions. Uugghh!

Why don’t we do something a little different this year? Forget the mundane “Exercise more,” “Lose weight,” and “Clean out the garage” promises. Let’s focus on your feet and their well being. After all, if you have happy feet, then you can exercise more to lose the weight by cleaning out the garage! Make sense?

Here are my five suggestions packaged as one resolution for 2011. If you’re an avid reader of this blog, you might already be doing half of these happy-feet suggestions. Build on that!

These suggestions are listed “David Letterman’s Top 10 List” style, starting with the last at No. 5 and building to the most important tip. Here they are:

5. Take Better Care of Your Shoes. Let’s start thinking about our shoes as an “investment,” both financially and in the well-being of our feet. After all, you undoubtedly sank a few coins in those shoes, so they’re worth taking care of.

Probably the hardest thing on your shoes is how you put them on and take them off. Whether your shoes are laced, zipped or slip-ons, use a shoe horn. This goes for men, women and children. Forcing you foot into the shoe without a shoe horn bends the back of the shoe down, which then weakens the core structure that is designed to protect you.

The same is true with using one foot to step on the sole or heel of your other shoe while pulling your foot out. Sure, the sole is securely attached, but it won’t be for long. Take three seconds to (1) unlace or unzip the shoes then (2) pull them off with your hand, not your foot. Your shoe investment will look newer longer – and provide the support you need.

4. Safety First. The world is a treacherous place and your foot will be the first to find the danger that lurks around every corner. Be smart. Running to catch the bus in five-inch heels is unwise. Mowing the grass in flip flops is downright stupid. And wearing the same work shoes every day of the week is counter-productive.

Veteran athletes and classically trained dancers understand the value of preparation, including acquiring the proper equipment and uniform. Take a tip from them and ask yourself, “Do I have the right shoes/socks/footwear for this task?” Even if it’s shopping the mall, you need the right “equipment” on your feet!

3. Be Pro Active on Foot Health Care. With the exception of blisters, most foot problems emerge over a period of time. Hammertoes, bunions, falling arches, even toe fungus start small, then go nowhere but worse. And nearly all of these problems can be treated (1) less painfully, (2) without surgery and (3) less expensively when caught early.

Take 30 seconds each week to sit down and examine your feet. The best time is right after a shower. Check both the tops, bottoms and sides of your feet. Is everything where it should be? Are there any new bumps or rough spots? Unexplained blisters or corns? Toes overlapping each other? Are there any unusually sensitive spots on your heel or the ball of your foot? If you can’t resolve it with a pumice stone, give our offices a call and let us take a look. It’s much easier (on you) to address foot problems early.

Finally, at Snyder-Stuart Podiatry Centers, we’re seeing more cases of gout come through our doors. [See our October blog on Gout for more information.] Know these two things about gout: (1) It is exceptionally painful and (2) it’s preventable. Watch the alcohol intake and drink more water.

2. Buy Better Shoes. As I’ve said many times, shoes are your feet’s best protectors. Whether it’s fluffy bunny slippers or steel-toed work boots, shoes stand between you and a perilous world. The average, fairly active person takes about 10,000 steps a day, so protecting your feet from outside elements is vital.

But that’s only half the benefit of proper shoes. From the inside, shoes — rather the right shoes — provide support. Correctly sized, they keep your toes, arch and heel in their optimum work place, and help to keep your posture in proper alignment so that taking those 10,000 steps takes less wear and tear on you.

If you’ve never had professionally sized shoes with proper orthotics prescribed precisely for you, consider giving them a try in 2011! You’ll see a significant difference while adding to the long-term well-being of your feet.

1. Be Kinder to Your Feet. Is it because our feet are the furthest from our brain that we forget to give them a moment of our attention until something starts to hurt?

Feet are fairly low maintenance. Not all, but most foot problems become realities through action done to them, not on their own accord. So, if you have a pair of shoes that continue to hurt you even after a normal break-in period, replace them. Life is too short.

On a weekly basis, preferably right after a shower, sit down and examine your feet. Take a pumice stone to smooth out any emerging calluses. Check in-between toes for anything odd, and use a moisturizer on your feet and ankles.

Every month or two, both men and women benefit from a professional pedicure. Cut the toenails short and straight across. Keep an eye out for ingrown toenails. (By the way, our Aesthetic Foot Spa offers a delicious, medically based pedicure and foot treatment at all of our Snyder-Stuart Podiatry Centers. If your pedometer has passed the 100,000 mark, it’s time for a checkup!)

Finally, from all of us at Snyder-Stuart Podiatry Centers, we wish you a Happy New Year filled with love, kindness and very happy feet!

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Dec 17, 2010

How to Stand for Hours at Holiday Parties

High Heels or Not, Here Are Several Ways to Ease The Pressure On Feet, Legs and Back from Standing

Tis the season for holiday partying! Those dreary days of January and February will be here soon enough! It’s great to see friends, spend relaxed time with co-workers and most of all, I feel like my wife and I enjoy more quality time alone while driving to and from all those parties! So as far as I’m concerned, bring it on!

It’s about this point in December, however, when I start hearing little a whining from some fellow partygoers. A frequent complaint is all the standing that is often involved. Expanded cocktail “hours,” parties at homes with too few sitting areas, and long waits in a crowded restaurant bar while waiting for your table all add up to a lot of standing.

So, as a podiatrist and a surgeon who spends hours at a time standing in one spot, there are a couple of things I can suggest to my fellow party-goers. (BTW, in January there will be a blog devoted to people, like nurses, waitresses, chefs, pharmacists, etc. who do a lot of standing on the job. This blog is for non-professional, party standers.)

If standing for long periods is troubling to you, the first thing to examine are your shoes. Partying is hard on the feet, particularly for those wearing six-inch heels (frequent visitors to this blog already know what I’m going to say about that).

You might have noticed in our offices and on our Web site, (www.feetonline.com), we only sell an amazing brand known for running shoes. Except for my bedroom slippers and Tuxedo dress shoes, I only wear one brand of running shoes shoes, as do my kids, in-laws, etc. The brand is Aetrex. After years of researching the subject and rejecting dozens of shoe designs, I chose Aetrex for its state-of-the-art design and technology. These shoes cradle and protect your feet better than any other. (Give me a call if you’d like to learn more.)

Feet are not the only things that suffer from standing for long periods. Leg and back pain are frequently involved. Prolonged standing is also attributed to more serious, long-term ailments like varicose veins and more circulatory problems.

So, what can be done? Here are a few suggestions that might help as you head off to the next set of festivities:

1. Posture: Think of your spine as a stack of small blocks. These blocks need to be in a perfectly vertical line or they will want to fall, in which case your muscles work overtime to keep you standing up straight. Perfect posture is when your muscles are very relaxed in a straight posture. Your chest is slightly forward, shoulders are back, the head is up, hips tucked in and your feet are evenly spaced with equal weight on each foot. You don’t have to stand like a guard at Buckingham Palace throughout the entire party, but good posture will help.

2. Move: Whether you’re sitting or standing for long periods, the key is to move every few minutes to keep the blood circulating. Walk to the bar, to the door for fresh air, to the hostess to check on wait time for your table, etc. This keeps the blood circulating and (momentarily) lessens the pressure on your feet.

3. Shift Your Weight: This will give each foot a few moments of relief. Rest one foot on a bar stool rung. Lean against the bar or a wall for a few minutes. Again, those few moments you can take the pressure off your feet will help.

4. Flex: If you’re a dancer, sneak in a small demi-plie (small bending of the knees) and releve (raising up on your toes). Men often “rock” forward and back. If you can sneak outside and do a few deep knee bends, you’ll really feel better! Again, all this circulates the blood.

5. Slip Off Your Shoes: Over the years, I’ve caught my wife doing this at parties. She’s so good at it, no one even notices as she gently steps out of one heel, stands shoeless for a few moments, then slips the shoe back on and does the other. She says that doing this on a cool tile or marble floor also helps to cool off her burdened feet.

6. Share A Seat: This can be fun! If your spouse or date snatches a free chair first, go be cozy together! Guys wouldn’t do this, but I’ve often seen female friends share a bar stool, each sort of half sitting, half standing for some extended relief from standing.

7. Support Hose or Support Socks: This, of course, requires planning ahead, but if you’re off to a wedding reception or function where you know there will be standing, women might try support hose and men support socks. The key is to have plenty of wiggle room in the toe area – reducing the blood flow to your feet will cause problems. Go a size up if you need to.

Like many problems, it’s no one thing you do that helps to lessen or resolve the problem, but a combination of things. So try a few of these ideas as you head out for your next “standing” event.

And, by the way, from all of us at Snyder Stuart Podiatry Centers, Happy Holidays!

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