Running is the most popular form of exercise today. All you need is a good pair of running shoes and a route to run; no gym membership or equipment required.
Even though running can benefit your body, heart, and overall health, it can be hard on the lower extremities, especially the feet.
Therefore, maintaining healthy feet becomes of great importance, and the following five tips are designed to help.
Regardless of how far or how often they run, all runners should make every effort to prevent injuries and minimize wear and tear on their feet and ankles. The following five tips are designed to increase your enjoyment and prolong your good running years.
Tip #1: Warm-up and Cool-Down
Performing various stretching exercises before running can help loosen up the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments) in your legs and feet. By increasing the flexibility of these soft tissues, you can prevent injuries from occurring, or at least reduce their severity.
Warming up also dilates your blood vessels, increases the supply of oxygen to your muscles, and increases the heart rate slowly, which minimizes the stress on your heart when you begin your run.
Cooling down after your run is just as important as warming up. A cool-down allows the heart to slow down and the blood flow to the lower extremities to slow gradually.
Stopping suddenly causes a pooling of the blood in the legs and rapid drop in blood pressure, which can result in dizziness.
In addition, the legs may become stiff and sore due to the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles. Most sources suggest a ten- to fifteen-minute warm-up and cool-down period, but stretches should be kept to a minimum to avoid injuring cold muscles.
Tip #2: Proper Footwear
The first step in acquiring proper footwear is to visit a store that specializes in running gear. All too often, mismatched gear and runners results in trouble. First, the shoes need to be the right size.
Generally, there should be a thumb’s width of space from the longest toe to the end of the shoe. The shape of the shoe should also match the shape of your foot—a wide foot will not be happy in a narrow shoe.
Most good running shoes will have a removable insert, which should also be taken into consideration. A flat foot may not be comfortable with an insert that has a highly developed arch. Remember to bring your orthotics when trying on running shoes.
Most importantly, the running shoes should feel good; any problem area in the shoe will only get worse with running.
When they hear the term footwear, most people think only of shoes, but socks can be equally important. Runners should stay away from cotton socks, which retain moisture; this can lead to blistering or athlete’s foot. Synthetic socks can wick moisture away from the foot, and they dry very quickly.
Tip #3: Start Slow
To avoid tight, stiff muscles, you should always begin your new running activities slowly. It is often best to start with a walk-run routine—i.e., alternating five-minute periods of walking and running—especially as a beginner or when recovering from an injury.
If you are considering increasing your commitment to running, there are as many different training schedules as there are runners. It may require some research, but it can save you a lot of pain and effort in the long run.
Most training programs involve days of long runs, intermediate runs, cross-training, and rest. Local running groups can be a good resource, as they can often provide both information and inspiration.
Tip #4: Address Problems Immediately
If you are experiencing any pain or discomfort, or symptoms such as swelling, stiffness, or changes in the condition of your skin, you should consider seeking advice from your foot specialist.
These symptoms can indicate a more serious underlying problem that affects foot function. The sooner the issue is addressed and treated, the faster you can resume your normal activities.
Tip #5: Run Correctly
There are very few perfect runners, but a lot can be learned by watching others and studying their form. Try to remember the following when you run.
- Head Tilt: Look ahead, not at your feet, but at the horizon.
- Shoulders: Keep the upper body relaxed, with the shoulders low and loose.
- Arms: Hands unclenched, and arms swing back and forth between the waist and lower chest.
- Torso: With head erect and shoulders loose, the back will naturally straighten to allow you to “run tall” and maximize lung capacity and stride.
- Hips: As the torso is straightened, the hips should fall into proper alignment over your center of gravity.
- Legs/Stride: Efficient running requires slight knee lift, quick leg turnover and short strides so that the feet land directly beneath your body.
- Ankles/Feet: The feet should hit lightly between the heel and the mid-foot. With the ankle flexed upward, roll the foot forward and then push with maximum force for propulsion.
- Tip: Try to incorporate soft surfaces into your route, as they can decrease the likelihood of injury by up to 50 percent.
- There are a great number of resources available now to make running safer and more enjoyable; take advantage of them to extend your running career!