As you age, taking good care of your feet is essential. Taking preventive steps and incorporating simple exercises into your daily routine will provide lasting benefits and help maintain mobility as you grow older. This article will introduce you to our favorite foot exercises for seniors to keep you moving and pain-free.
From strengthening muscles to increasing stability and providing relief from joint pain, there are many advantages that come with performing foot exercises regularly. Best of all, many exercises can be done at home with minimal equipment.
Why We Recommend Foot Exercises
Our bodies change over time, and our feet are no exception. After decades of walking, running, and jumping, certain areas of your foot become prone to wear and tear, which increases the chances of developing certain conditions, including:
Arthritis, which can show as ankle pain, pain in big and second toes, or other areas of the foot
Neuropathy, which a number of age-related conditions can cause, often leads to leg pain and nerve problems.
Bunions and other dysfunction of the toe muscles and joints related to foot deformities or even wearing tight shoes
Plantar fasciitis can cause heel pain related to age, overweight or movement dysfunction.
Exercise has become a popular option for managing and preventing these conditions and other problems that may commonly arise for many seniors.
Foot exercises are a fantastic way to promote healthy aging by increasing foot strength and mobility. Regular foot exercise can help prevent foot discomfort and injury by increasing muscle activation and flexibility to keep your feet limber and durable to prevent and manage foot issues like the ones listed above. (1)
Foot exercises range from simple stretches that can be done anywhere to more intensive routines for specific movements or muscles. Taking steps to maximize foot health through regular foot exercises is a great way to help you stay fit for life!
Our Five Favorite Foot Exercises for Seniors
Towel scrunches – sometimes called toe scrunches or towel curls – effectively exercise the foot and calf muscles through simple movements. Better yet, this exercise requires minimal equipment and can be done anywhere.
Start by sitting in a chair and placing a towel on the floor underneath your left foot.
From here, slowly curl the ends of the towel towards your heel using only your toes, attempting to “scrunch” the towel up while moving as far as you can without pain.
Hold this position briefly before you relax and return to the start.
Repeat the exercise until your foot becomes fatigued, then switch to the other foot.
Aim to do this a few times daily, one foot at a time.
This exercise is beneficial for activating the foot’s intrinsic muscles, improving circulation, and preventing soft tissue injuries like plantar fasciitis.
Foot strengthening exercises like arch lifts are a great way to improve the strength and endurance of your feet (2).
To perform arch lifts, all you need is a chair!
Start by sitting with your knees bent and your feet gently resting on the floor.
From this position, gently squeeze the middle of your foot and attempt to “lift” the arch of your foot and your toes while keeping your heels and only the balls of your feet on the ground.
When performing correctly, you should feel some tension in the arch of your foot. Gently relax and repeat, taking breaks if you feel any foot cramps starting.
Aim to perform this exercise until fatigue, up to a few sessions per day. Not only does this exercise strengthen the muscles and ligaments in your feet, but it can also improve your foot mobility, which translates to improved walking and balance. (3)
Toe yoga is an increasingly popular method that can help improve foot flexibility and reduce foot pain related to arthritis and tendinitis.
To get set up, first, find a comfortable seated position with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Start the exercise by raising your big toe as high as possible while keeping your small toes on the ground. Pause briefly, then gently lower the big toe back to the floor.
Next, raise your little toes as high as possible while keeping your big toe on the ground.
Continue to alternate between lifting your big and little toes, trying to minimize motion in the toes on the floor as best as you can.
Repeat this process until your foot becomes fatigued. Consider performing this exercise multiple times throughout your day to maintain toe strength and mobility.
“Toe yoga” can be one of the best foot exercises for arthritis because it encourages pain-free movement and circulation to the foot. Give it a try today – your feet will thank you!
Big Toe Stretch
A seated big toe stretch can provide many benefits, including managing conditions such as plantar fasciitis or bunions. This exercise doesn’t require any equipment and can be done anywhere.
To stretch your big toe, start by sitting in a chair with your ankle crossed over your opposite knee— sometimes called a ‘figure-four’ position.
Firmly grip the lower portion of your big toe, then bend your toe back towards as far as you comfortably can and pause.
Hold this position for 30 seconds, then gently relax and repeat a few times.
Be sure to sprinkle this stretch throughout your day for the best results. Doing this stretch regularly is a great way to relieve tension on your plantar fascia, which can become stiff and painful over time without proper attention to your feet.
Massaging your foot with a small ball is a great way to relax after a long day while also helping to prevent foot tendinitis. All you need for this exercise is a small ball – either softer like a tennis ball, or firmer like a lacrosse ball.
Start by sitting in a chair with your knees bent and place the ball directly under your foot.
From there, slowly and gently roll the ball along the sole of your foot, moving in straight lines or small circles.
Use enough pressure to feel like you’re getting a massage, but not so much that you are causing pain.
For added work, you can also attempt to grab the ball with your foot or perform toe yoga while the ball is under your foot.
We recommend about 1-2 minutes of rolling under each foot per session, aiming for a few sessions per day.
This method of foot massage can greatly impact problems like plantar fasciitis while also helping relieve muscle tension in your foot after a long day.
- As we age, our feet are more susceptible to arthritis, neuropathy, bunions, and plantar fasciitis.
- Regular foot exercises for seniors can enhance strength, mobility, and injury prevention.
- Towel Scrunches, done seated with a towel, activate foot muscles and can prevent plantar fasciitis.
- Arch Lifts and Toe Yoga improve foot strength and flexibility, encouraging better balance and pain relief benefits.
- The Big Toe Stretch and Foot Rollout with a small ball can alleviate conditions such as plantar fasciitis and muscle tension.
- Wearing supportive shoes and having regular foot check-ups are essential for long-term foot health.
Are there specific shoe types recommended for seniors to promote foot health and reduce the risk of injuries?
Choosing the right shoe type is crucial for seniors to maintain foot health and reduce the risk of injuries. Shoes with non-slip soles are highly recommended to prevent falls. A supportive arch and cushioning can help alleviate pain from arthritis and plantar fasciitis. Orthopedic shoes or custom insoles might be beneficial for those with specific foot problems.
Importantly, the shoes should have enough room for the toes to move but should also securely hold the feet to prevent sliding, which can lead to blisters or more serious injuries. Consulting a podiatrist for specific recommendations tailored to individual foot health is always good.
How does nutrition play a role in maintaining foot health, especially for seniors?
Nutrition can have a profound impact on foot health. For instance, adequate calcium and vitamin D intake can support bone health, potentially reducing the risk of fractures. Anti-inflammatory foods like fatty fish, berries, and leafy green vegetables may alleviate symptoms of arthritis and other inflammatory conditions affecting the feet.
Proper hydration is also important for joint and muscle function. Additionally, controlling sugar intake is essential for preventing or managing neuropathy, often caused by diabetes. As always, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare provider for personalized nutrition advice.
What other preventive measures can seniors adopt besides exercises to ensure foot health?
Other than exercises, seniors can take various steps to ensure foot health. Routine foot inspections for changes or abnormalities like sores, discolored spots, or fungal infections are crucial. Proper hygiene, including keeping the feet dry and clean, helps prevent bacterial and fungal infections. Moisturizing the feet can prevent dry, cracked skin, which could lead to other complications.
Also, regular visits to a podiatrist for check-ups and early interventions can be invaluable. Elevating the feet when sitting can also help improve circulation, which is particularly beneficial for those with diabetes or vascular issues.
How frequently should seniors have foot check-ups, and what should these check-ups entail?
The frequency of foot check-ups can vary depending on the individual’s health status. For those without chronic issues, an annual check-up may be sufficient. However, for those with diabetes, neuropathy, or other conditions, more frequent check-ups are advisable.
A typical check-up might involve a physical examination of the feet, gait assessment, flexibility tests, and imaging tests like X-rays for a comprehensive overview. The healthcare provider may also assess the fit and wear of the patient’s shoes to offer advice or recommendations.
Are there any signs or symptoms that seniors should watch out for that might indicate a developing foot problem?
Certainly, some signs and symptoms can indicate a developing foot problem. These include persistent pain, swelling, or stiffness; changes in the color or temperature of the skin; sores or cuts that don’t seem to heal; tingling or numbness; and any changes in the shape or alignment of the feet or toes. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider promptly for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.
American Family Physician: Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis
Unver B, Erdem EU, Akbas E. Effects of Short-Foot Exercises on Foot Posture, Pain, Disability, and Plantar Pressure in Pes Planus. J Sport Rehabil. 2019;29(4):436-440. Published 2019 Oct 18. doi:10.1123/jsr.2018-0363 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30860412/
Thong-On S, Bovonsunthonchai S, Vachalathiti R, Intiravoranont W, Suwannarat S, Smith R. Effects of Strengthening and Stretching Exercises on the Temporospatial Gait Parameters in Patients With Plantar Fasciitis: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Ann Rehabil Med. 2019;43(6):662-676. doi:10.5535/arm.2019.43.6.662 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6960082/