By: Dr. P. Roman Burk
Because May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, we will take a look at the importance of physical fitness in achieving optimum health and how being physically fit can benefit your feet and ankles. Physically active people are healthier and less likely to be afflicted by chronic diseases than their couch potato counterparts. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) recommends the following types and amounts of exercise:
- At least 2-1/2 – 5 hours every week of moderate aerobic physical activity, e.g., brisk walking or playing tennis
- At least 1-1/4 – 2-1/2 hours every week of vigorous aerobic physical exercise, e.g., jogging or swimming.
- Each episode of physical activity should last at least ten minutes and should be spread out throughout the week.
Americans Aren’t as Physically Fit as They Think They Are
A Brit, a Dutch guy, and an American go for a walk …. This may appear to be the start of a joke, but it actually relates to an international study on physical activity in three countries where the study participants wore fitness-tracking devices. The study was conducted by the University of Southern California and one finding was that Americans are much less active than Europeans but they don’t think they are.
Why Are Americans Less Fit than the Dutch?
The wearable tracking devices revealed the hard truth that Americans are much less physically active than the Dutch or the English. In fact, the number of Americans that were placed in the inactive category was almost twice as large as the number of Dutch participants. The main difference between the two groups is that Americans depend a lot on their cars, while the Dutch frequently walk or use bicycles to get to work and to run simple errands.
Physical Fitness and Your Joints
Though you might assume that exercise will aggravate your joint pain, the opposite is true. Lack of exercise can make your joints even stiffer and more painful. Not exercising weakens the supporting muscles around your bones, creating more stress on your joints. Being physically fit benefits your whole body, but we’ll concentrate on how it affects your feet and ankles. Here’s how physical exercise can benefit some common foot conditions.
Exercise is vital for people with arthritic joints. It helps to reduce joint pain and increases strength and flexibility. Arthritis sufferers need to exercise in a way that puts low impact on their joints – e.g., bicycling, swimming, walking. The most important word to concentrate on is “move.” Any movement, however small, is beneficial. Think of walking the dog, mowing the lawn, or raking leaves.
- The Arthritis Foundation – The Arthritis Foundation provides exercise programs for those afflicted with arthritis. Programs include exercise classes – on land and in water – and walking groups. Contact your local branch for more information.
Osteoporosis involves the loss of calcium and other minerals from the bones. This makes the bones in the feet and ankles susceptible to fractures. Osteoporosis is mainly a disease of aging and involves more women than men because the hormonal changes of menopause accelerate bone loss. A sedentary lifestyle also encourages the loss of bone density. On the plus side, regular exercise can reduce the rate of bone loss and help conserve remaining bone tissue.
If you are a gout sufferer, it’s essential to exercise. Inactivity will make you less flexible, weaken your joints and muscles, and encourage bone loss. In contrast, exercise will help to prevent gout from occurring and lessen the frequency of gout attacks if you are already a sufferer. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that men who ran five miles per day had a 50% less chance of developing gout than inactive men.
- Warning – Don’t do strenuous exercise during a gout flare-up; wait until the attack is over and then get back to exercising gradually. Work through your joint flares by doing only range-of-motion exercises or exercising in water to cushion your joints.
Don’t Overdo the Exercise at First
If you’ve been sitting on your couch for a long time, ease yourself into exercise gradually. Pushing yourself too hard too soon can overwork your muscles and make your joint pain worse. And, because any type of exercise involves your feet and ankles, you might want to have them assessed by a podiatrist before commencing an exercise regimen. Here at Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle we can help your feet feel comfortable while you exercise by taking care of any foot problems. Set up an appointment with us for a consultation.