Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Foot Notes - 10 ways to care for your feet

Forget about  Atlas whining about having the weight of the world on his shoulders: your feet have it worse.  Every day they carry you some 10,000 steps (unless you're a couch potato) and bear several hundred tonnes of impact.  But when it comes to your health priorities, they're usually the furthest things from your mind - in every sense.  You take them for granted, that is until you develop a problem and then it's "Oh my Gosh, I can't walk anymore."  

Sounds dramatic doesn't it, but research shows that most people wait until they're in debilitating pain before they seek medical attention for foot problems.  Apparently 1 in 5 Aussies suffer foot pain but weirdly, nearly 85% of us have never seen a podiatrist.  I was one of the majority until about a month ago when I could bare the foot pain not longer. My feet, most particularly my toes on my left foot, throbbed when I walked let alone being able to meet the demands of my fitness program - the goal of running 10 km in 1 hour by the end of this year. Result - no exercise, lost motivation and back to square one.  

So, like a good self coach, to salvage my fitness regimen and motivation from being kicked out the door,  I decided it was time to take action and seek professional medical advice.  I also decided to find myself a mentor - a successful runner who could add  some exercise wisdom to the mix.  Remember a mentor does not  have to be someone you actually know personally - an author, authority on the subject in question etc will do just as well.

Like me you might not be aware what a masterpiece  this hardest working body part really is.  Did you know that the foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and 100+ tendons, muscles and ligaments?  In addition, research has linked stress on these complex instruments to malfunctions in the ankle, knee, hip joint and lower back.

Jenny Hadfieldco-author of “Running for Mortals and Marathoning for Mortals.”  recommends the following tips on foot care

Develop your running like a fine wine.
Running or any exercise for that matter has a way of becoming addictive and the joy and excitement can quickly lead to doing to much too quickly leading to overload on the body causing aches and pains in your feet, knees, hips and lower  back.  Jenny suggests that as a general rule of thumb you should not increase your mileage by no more than 10 percent each week. Keeping a log and tracking how your body feels can help you find the  right balance of running frequency, duration, intensity and recovery.
Invest in proper running shoes.

My old joggers – looked and smelt long past there use by date and were not providing any support for my poor tootsies. The general consensus is that runners should be replaced every 480-800 km.  Mine had certainly exceeded this mileage so I made a quick visit to my local sporting store  and had a trained professional help me find a pair of running shoes  that fit well and were appropriate for the various exercises I had in mind.  While it can be expensive to get a good pair of sports shoes I think it is a good investment in your overall health.
Podiatrist,Christine Dobrowolski, author of Those Aching Feet recommends that before walking a step, let alone a kilometer, in any shoes, put them through this test - grab one by the toe and heel, then try and twist it and fold it in half.  It should flex only in the toe area and where the feet actually bend.  Look for shoes with cushioning, arch support and a heel that won't collapse when  squeezed. While you're at it have your feet measured as weight fluctuations, age and pregnancy can cause your feet to change in shape.   In addition, as all makes and models of shoes vary, never assume you know your size until you've actually laced-up and taken them for a spin. Running shoes should feel snug but not too tight. A good fit should allow you a thumbs-width between the end of your big toe and the tip of the shoe. Use your own thumb, not the sales associate’s (or your brother who weighs 100 more pounds than you—and consequently has thumbs three times the size of your own). You want this to be a proportionate measure of your individual frame. While this may seem roomy initially, you’ll need this extra space as our feet expand and swell when we run due to increased circulation and body heat generation. This cushion, so-to-speak, is important for downhill running too as your feet will be pushed further down towards the front of the shoe which can cause discomfort and tingling if there’s not enough wiggle room, thus leaving your toes sore and tender
Examine your everyday footwear.
It’s possible for foot pain to be aggravated not by running but by lifestyle habits. I hate to say it, but wearing high heels is one of the worst things  for your feet as your weight is shifted forward putting excessive pressure on the forefoot and squeezing our little piggies into a space the size of a Doritos chip.  Not that I wear high heels very often as I tend to stick to flat shoes as often as possible. However, these so called comfy shoes, like ballet flats and thongs, can be almost as damaging.  Without support, your arches suffer extra strain, causing tiny tears in the tissue that over time can get so bad that you feel searing cramps with each step - a condition called plantar fasciitis.  (Another condition called tendonitis can also develop) Apparently, it's the number one reason women visit the podiatrist (Women's Health Magazine, Dec 2009). So try to balance wearing flats with some shoes that provide support. 

Get stronger.
For feet to stay healthy, they have to be strong. Performing exercises barefoot will ensure that every muscle and ligament in your lower body is in working order. To complement your running, weave in strength work two or three times  during the week. This can be in the form of yoga or body-weight movements. The key is to include exercises that improve mobility and balance to prevent the development of weak links in your body. A little bit of work goes a long way.  
My podiatrist suggested strengthening the muscles in the foot was a good idea. Toe curls are good, as are toe push-ups (barefoot push ups with your feet), and rolling your foot on golf ball and trying to pick up the ball by curling your toes around it also is a good for building stronger muscles in the foot. Other exercises include calf raises.
 Fix your form.
Increasing your cadence is one of the easiest ways to improve running form. Perform a quick inventory of how often your foot hits the ground (your cadence) by counting the number of strides on one foot for one minute. If you count fewer strides than 88, you’re not striding quickly enough.
A slow cadence likely means you are covering too much ground with every step, which increases the impact forces on your body. One fun way to increase cadence is to listen to a high-tempo song and to try to match the beat. Apps like Podrunner or Motion Traxx offer playlists at 180 beats per minute.
Toe the Line
If your are doing a lot of exercise, particularly walking, jogging or running your toenails can also take a pounding and become thick, yellow or black. They can even dig into the neighbouring toe and cause cuts and bleeding.  Keeping your toenails short not only keeps them from developing a nasty fungus beneath your nail beds, but will also lengthen the life of your socks. Toenails that are too long can often poke holes in your socks leaving those piggies uncovered and vulnerable to blisters and bruising. Too-long-toenails can also scratch surrounding toes and consequently, leaving you with bloody socks and risk of infection.  If you are prone to ingrown toenails, they should be cut round instead of short. 

Preventing Calluses and Blisters
The hardening of the skin around a runner`s feet is actually a protective mechanism. This is usually caused by friction over extended periods of time. You can prevent the skin from becoming too tough by using any of the foot graters and pumice stones on the market. This will also prevent calluses. Other actions you can take include  wearing good moisture wicking socks with few or no seams, when buying new shoes, ensure they fit properly (not too tight or too loose) and invest in a pumice stone or foot file and use it daily. 

As petty as they sound, blisters can be one of the most debilitating “injuries” to run through. If a blister becomes painful enough, it can cause you to subconsciously alter your stride, which can lead to imbalances and further injuries.  Treat blisters as they appear.

Keep Feet Smelling Sweet

Are you sweating up a storm in your sneakers?  Don't worry, we all are - each foot has more thatn 250,000 sweat glands and produces a cup of sweat every day!   Fortunately, there are a number of remedies to prevent runner`s foot odor. Consider daily feet soaks with any of the peppermint-based cleansing products. Some runners even like to put talcum powder or baking soda in their shoes before putting on their socks. After a hard days work, your tired toes will probably enjoy a nice cuppa as much as you do.  Brew up some black tea and soak you feet for 15 minutes. Tea's acid helps break down odour causing bacteria. Last but least, although it should go without saying, be sure to change your socks on a daily basis. Make sure your feet are clean and dry before putting socks on, as wet feet are the perfect breeding ground for infectious fungi, such as the fungus that causes “athlete’s foot.” If you do find signs of fungal infection (red or itchy or flaky skin, crustiness between toes, hard cracked skin at the heels), treat it promptly with an anti-fungal cream available at your local pharmacy.

Tying Your laces 
As I mentioned, your shoes should feel snug, not tight. One way to make sure you’re not tying your laces too tight is to first slip into your shoes and then make a “fist” with your toes, or simply curl your toes under your feet. Once your toes are scrunched up, then lace your shoes as your normally would. Once you've finished lacing them, simply release your toe fist. This will give your feet a cradled environment; yet allow enough mobility within the shoe to combat numbness and rubbing.

Sock it to Me!
When we run, our feet get hot. So, keep your peds cool by wearing socks that breathe. There are hundreds of socks on the market in a variety of fabrics. You want to look for lightweight, water-resistant materials that either breathe or wick away moisture in order to keep blisters from appearing and odors from being any more pronounced than they have to be!

Professional Advice
Podiatrists or Doctors of Pediatric Medicine (DPM) are physicians who specialize in the treatment of foot and ankle problems. Most podiatrists have spent at least three or four years studying the basic sciences in a university or college after graduating high school, then studied four more years at a school of pediatric medicine, and then most go on to do foot and ankle residencies for two to three additional years 

Podiatrists treat all problems related to the foot or ankle. The more common problems they see are heel pain, arch pain, ingrown toe nails, bunions (bumps on the inside of the big toe), hammertoes (bent toes), flat feet, foot or ankle arthritis, fungal toe nails, sores (ulcers), infections, sprains and fractures, ankle pain or weakness and nerve problems and neuropathy (numbness, burning, or tingling).

Some aches and pains in our feet or ankles may go away in a day in a two; others do not, and that is when you need to go to a podiatrist. Many people who see me for a painful foot or ankle have had pain for several days or weeks, but some have been limping around for several months or even over a year! Pain is the body's way of telling us something is wrong. Don't ignore it.  Seek professional help.

When I visited the podiatrist and explained my issue she took a film of my walking and running action and played it back to me.  It appears that I tend to push off from my toes on my left foot and that is what is causing the problem.  She recommended I, give running a miss for a time,  massage Voltrrian into my foot 4 times a day for a fortnight and do some foot exercises.  The exercise involved picking up a pen with my toes for 5 minutes once a day for a fortnight.  

Improving your foot health is vital. After all, they are our foundation. Investing just a little time in strength and flexibility exercises and adjusting your footwear and training routine are simple steps that can prevent pain and improve your running performance down the road.  I am certainly not taking my feet for granted any longer.  Here's to healthy pain free happy feet
Do you  have any footnotes to add? Perhaps a story to share or  tips on foot health.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

How to Break a Bad Habit

 I've got a question for you: Who decides if a habit is good or bad?  You, your partner, your parents or boss?  Perhaps the behaviour started out as serving a particular purpose but is  no longer useful. But you keep on doing it anyway - out of habit. I'll tell you a story about a habit I developed over a number of years and how it changed from something I enjoyed and thought of as positive to something considered a health risk.  While I was employed in a small community legal service, a work colleague would always have a Coke Zero for morning tea and lunch. She brought them along daily and kept them in a small cooler bag in her office. I was keen to get to know this lady better with the view of forming a friendship.  At this time, I did not drink any type of soft drink,  let alone Coke.  In particular, I  though Coke tasted awful.  One morning when Rose invited me to join her for a Coke Zero I  eagerly accepted the drink and we spent a delightful 15 minutes together.  Over time, sharing a Coke over morning tea  developed into a work ritual. We became close friends and I became addicted to the diet soda. 

 A couple of years later after, I finished work at that organisation, I  still  had a Coke Zero every morning -purchasing them in bulk at the local supermarket. I figured, it was a good choice as Coke Zero is supposedly better for you than other soda drinks since it  was diet friendly.  My husband, then pointed  out, that  while it does not contain any calories, fat, carbohydrates, cholesterol or sugars, it also provides no nutritional benefits. He had also heard on a health report that 

  • Diet soda messes up your metabolism, boosts your risk for diabetes and heart disease and even doubles your risk for metabolic syndrome. 
  • Dr. Oz cited studies showing drinking diet soda is linked to higher rates of depression and larger waistlines.
  • A Harvard study showed diet sodas caused a decline in kidney function due to the diet sweeteners. 
  • It can rot teeth and destroy teeth enamel due to being acidic in nature. 
  • Diet sodas also contain chemical substances which can cause cell damage.  

Bummer.  Time for me to reassess the usefulness of this particular; habit.  

So how long does it take to form a new habit? One that does not involve Coke Zero in my case. I looked for an answer from my good friend Google. This search suggested the answer was clear-cut with the top results making reference to a magic figure of 21 days. These websites maintained that “research”  had found that if you repeated a behavior every day for 21 days, then you would have established a brand-new habit.  Going to the gym, eliminating chocolate from your diet to getting up earlier - you name it, 21 days is the answer. In addition, many authors recommend that it’s crucial to maintain a chain of 21 days without breaking it. Read more at   Beliefnet.com
The reality is, habits are easier to make than they are to break. If you repeat a behavior often enough, those synaptic pathways are going to get worn in, like hallway carpet. However, breaking a habit is a lot more complicated, because while parts of those worn-in pathways can weaken without use, they never go away [source: Rae-Dupree]. They can be reactivated with the slightest provocation [source: Delude]. If you've ever tried to quit smoking, you already know this. You can go a year without a cigarette, and then give in one time and BAM, the habit comes right back. See more at Science: how stuff works
So 3 weeks ago I decided to take up the challenge and see if I could give up my Coke Zero addiction as part of my get fit and healthy  campaign for 2014 ( see my blog on Resolution: Evolution). The following tips helped me abstain for the duration of 21 days straight.  I hope they can help you to increase your chances of success in your endeavor to change a habit. They include:
  • Take small steps. Don't try to do everything at once. (So, instead of "I'm going to exercise every day," start with "I'm going to exercise twice a week.")
  • Only try to change one habit at a time. (Instead of "I'm going to quit eating junk food, start exercising, and go to sleep at 10 p.m. instead of 2 a.m.," start with "I'm going to quit eating junk food.")
  • Write down the habit you want to change, and write down specific plans for achieving that goal. (Rather than writing "I will exercise," write, "I will start walking 30 minutes twice a week, on Monday and Thursday, and I will wake up at 7 a.m., so I can walk before work on those days.")
  • Repeat the behavior you're aiming for as often as you can. The more a behavior is repeated, the more likely it is that it will become "instinctive."
[source: Newby-Clark]

  • Use the 3 D's Technique  - Delay giving into the craving, Distract by doing something different to occupy your thoughts,  Decide not to give in to the unhealthy habit by thinking of all the advantages of not doing it and the reasons you want to stop. 

Well, I can say that I am am Coke Zero free and thankfully it was not too difficult.  I think one of the things that worked in my favour was going bush ( and I'm talking remote high country with no showers let alone shops)  for 7 days at the outset. 
What habit are you trying to make or break?  I would be honoured if you could share your story with me.   

Monday, 14 April 2014

My Marriage Message

“Marriage: Love is the reason. Lifelong friendship is the gift. Kindness is the cause. Til’ death do us part is the length.”
-Fawn Weaver

I have been working on this one project for 19 years now.  There have been plenty of highs and just as many lows.  It has required an ongoing commitment  long after the gloss of being part of something bigger than myself has well and truly worn off.  It has required diplomacy  and tact and a willingness to forgive and forget.  It has required being part of a team and accepting the strengths and limitations of the other team member. Like any job, it has its moments and you whinge about your colleagues.   I have also thought at times of quitting and moving on to something shining, bright and new.  But I  have always pulled back. because this project still means so much to me.  I am still passionate about it, find it fulfilling and rewarding and know it will be my legacy to my children and grandchildren.   Today my husband and I are celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary.  He didn't give me flowers or chocolates but a kiss and a coffee.  A simple kindness that  brightened my day.  

Life gets messy, boring and stressful so how do you make a marriage a long and happy one?  Movies and  daytime TV series take the viewer on a roller coaster ride that includes deceit,  passion and melodrama.  If a real life marriage was like that it wouldn't last a year.  Come to think of in Bold and the Beautiful they generally don"t - at least not at one time.  This topic has been the subject of much research and many books so what value can I add to the discussion that has not already been said elsewhere.  Probably not much, so I'll be brief.  I believe the key to our marriage has been the following:

  1. Respect - We both have a clear understanding of each others strengths and limitations.  As we are very different personalities we have to be careful not to become irritated with each other, but to revel in that difference.  We also appreciate that while we have a common goal, we also have individual pursuits and passions that require our time and energy.  Over the years we have been very supportive of each other in chasing our individual dreams. I know it's easy to fall into bad habits and take each other for granted which leads to the appearance of bad manners.  Using the "magic words", like please and thank you is not just for dating, children or strangers.  It is the grease that keeps the wheels of a good marriage turning smoothly.
  2. Commitment -  I have always thought of a marriage as being like a company, with the husband and wife being the board of directors - having equal say in advancing the best interest of the group.  In this way, bumps in the road are seen as a shared obstacle that requires a solution as opposed to a naming, blaming and shaming activity.  I also feel it helps if you believe that marriage is for life, whether from a religious perspective or the way you were brought up. If you don't believe there is an escape clause in your marriage vows then you are more likely to exert the necessary energy to make the relationship work.  And believe me it does require hard work. If your committed for life then you will also need to be committed to grow and mature together.  This will require staying in touch with east others growth over time so we don't end up being married to a stranger.
  3. Best Friends - At the start of a relationship when the passion is still like fire in your belly it's easier to stay positive about the person who is lying next to you every night, possibly snoring or dribbling from the corner of his mouth.  As the years pass by, while  it is important to keep those fires burning, it becomes more important, I feel, that your husband is not only your lover but also your best friend. He should be the person you turn to when life kicked you in the guts, the person who supports you through the lows, encourages you to progress your goals and helps celebrate your wins. There should be a high level of trust, a shared interest, and laughter.  Remember and reminisce about the good times and overlook the painful periods.  Finger pointing, is not only rude, it is destructive and will bring the house down around your ears.
I know that there are many other couples out there who have been married a lot longer than me. For instance my aunt and uncle are celebrating a 50 year marriage this week-end.   So what secrets can you share we me that might assist me to reach the same happy place in 31 years time?