Could Your Shoes Be a Health Hazard?

Could Your Shoes Be a Health Hazard?

Could footwear that’s too high, too tight, or just too darned uncomfortable be hazardous to your overall health? We think the answer’s yes. Sore feet, often caused or made worse by bad shoes, keep 40% of guys and gals in chairs at one time or another.

There’s been a tidal wave of medical research linking everything from heart disease to diabetes and cancer with prolonged, daily sitting. Whether your sedentary time happens in the office or at home, on a comfy couch or in a desk chair, it’s a health risk that packs extra fat around internal organs (which boosts inflammation), lowers your daily calorie burn and dials down an important muscle enzyme called lipoprotein lipase that helps keep cholesterol and blood-sugar levels within healthy ranges. While a daily exercise session -- like a half-hour walk -- may help counter the effects, you aren’t going to do much standing or walking if your feet hurt!

The Saboteur: Your shoes may be preventing you from getting up and on your feet! Researchers tracked changes in ankle strength and balance over four years in women training to become flight attendants, most of whom were wearing high heels regularly for the first time. By the end of the study, their muscles were weaker and there were signs of nerve and ligament damage, leading to ankle instability and balance problems.

But guys, don’t snicker just yet. Stilettos aren’t the only problem. Other research shows that one in three men (and yes, one in two women) admit to buying uncomfortable shoes that don’t fit properly. That ups the chances for foot-pain woes like bunions, hammer toes, crowded toes and excess pressure on the soles of your feet.

Your feet house an amazing system of 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments -- designed to work together to keep you balanced and on the move. When your shoes don’t fit right they strain your tendons and ligaments. Your feet hurt and you may change your walking style in subtle ways that can throw off your ankles, knees, hips and back. This pain could lead to -- you guessed it -- even more sitting! Avoid footwear traps that keep you off your feet with these strategies:

Get your pups measured. Feet become longer and wider as we age, as connective tissue stretches. Don’t assume you wear the same size shoe that you did in college! Also, go shoe shopping later on in the day, when your feet contain more fluid and are a bit larger. Have both feet measured and if one foot is larger than the other buy the right size shoe for your bigger foot.

Bring along the socks you’ll be wearing and test-drive prospective shoes with those socks.

Add an insert or have one custom-made. Drugstore shoe inserts can provide arch support or relieve mild foot pain with extra cushioning. But it’s smart to see a podiatrist about severe pain and problems like plantar fasciitis, bursitis, tendinitis, foot ulcers, or any foot issues if you have diabetes. Your doc can provide you with a custom orthotic device to keep your feet – as well as your legs, hips and back – dancing happily.

Can’t resist heels or snazzy dress shoes? Keep wear time to a minimum. Bring along comfortable back-up shoes to wear before and after a party or event. Stick to heels that are 2 inches or less (guys, that’s for boots too). And do gentle calf raises afterward wearing heels to stretch tight muscles.

Flip off those flip-flops. Flip-flops mess with your stride in ways that can cause lots of lower-body problems. Swap’em for a pair of supportive sandals with a back strap for everyday wear. And save your iconic summer footwear for the pool or the beach.

Now, when your feet feel great -- make sure you get up off your backside! Start using smart phone apps that sound a reminder-alarm every 30 to 60 minutes to get you on your feet.

Medically reviewed in June 2019.

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