Archive for Health

The argument over barefoot running continues

We started this shoe journey by looking at the argument for barefoot living. Many people are choosing to abandon their shoes in favour of healthy feet, even in cities such as New York. Others opt for barefoot shoes, which provide feet with a measure of protection while also providing the illusion of bare-footedness. The arguments for and against living barefoot focus primarily on the benefits that each has to offer for your feet. Pro-bare-footers feel that shoes hamper the natural action of feet and actually cause damage, while those who are pro-shoes (largely of a scientific mien) argue that shoes are designed with specific protective purposes.

Rick Rober is a bare-footer (bare-footist?) who has been running barefoot for the last five odd years, and that includes 40 marathons. He started running barefoot when his knees starting giving him trouble. Knees are often the first things to go among professional and amateur runners and Rober thinks that this is because people run “stupid”. Worried that some form of surgery was on the horizon, Rober read about another barefoot marathon runner and decided to give it a go. And it stuck.

In an NY Times article, Rober said, “Running shoes give you this false sense of security. They have so much padding you think you can run as hard as you want, and then they start breaking down. But smaller, quicker steps are better for your legs.” He believes that running shoes encourage over-striding, which increases the impact to your heels and causes “blunt-force trauma up the shin and calf” up to the knee. Shorter strides, adopted by barefoot runners, displace the impact around the foot and limit the damage that travels up your legs.

His argument is counted by Dr Lewis Maharam, a sports medicine specialist and medical director of the NY City Marathon. Dr Maharam says that running without shoes does more harm than good because barefoot runners don’t have any control over their foot strike. He allows that running barefoot a couple of times a week for short distances only can have some beneficial effect by strengthening foot muscles, but that you need good running shoes in order to address biomechanical issues.

But Rober isn’t having any of it. He’s found a method that works for him and that he believes has eased his knee problems. And with 558 consecutives days of running barefoot, one would be hard pressed to convince him, and many others, otherwise. According to Rober, conditioning the soles is the most important thing to keep in mind when discarding your shoes. He recommends that beginners start off on grass and gradually move to harder, more abrasive surfaces. His feet are not pretty much perfectly conditioned, and Rober says that they resemble “moccasin leather”, but aren’t unsightly.

An article on sportsci.org seems to support Rober and his theories barefoot running. After some research it was found that running in shoes has the potential to increase the risk of ankle sprains, as well as injuries to the lower leg. Running barefoot, however, reduced oxygen consumption and improved energy efficiency.

In runtheplant.com Gordon Pirie is quoted as saying:

“There is no point in running large distances until the athlete has learned to run correctly. I cannot emphasize this point enough. An athlete who runs correctly can train hard for years without any time lost to stress-related injuries. I have trained very hard for 45 years and have suffered only two or three injuries which have stopped me from training. My longevity is a direct result of paying close attention to the way I run, and what I put on my feet”

Whether you choose to run shod or barefoot, the most important thing to do is ensure that you learn to run properly. Most of us run perfectly well when we are children, largely because we run barefoot and our feet haven’t been conditioned to shoes. As we grow up we start to wear shoes more often than not and our feet adapt to their semi-permanent casings, which can teach us bad habits, such running heel first. Runtheplant argues that the basic design of our feet dictates that we land on the ball of the foot when running and that this propels forward movement, while land on our heels actually break the natural running movement and slows us down. Landing heel first also unnecessarily increases the impact to joints, tendons and muscles.

The bottom line is, get up from your couch, leave your screen (be it computer or television) behind and get active.

(additional barefoot running blogs:

Running barefoot

Run Barefoot)

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Learning new things every day – diabetic shoes

One of the things that I love about this blog is that I learn something new virtually every time I write something. I’ve learnt about vegan shoes (which I really love), shoe art (which is weird and cool at the same time), shoes that help you lose weight, shoes that feel like you’re walking barefoot and now, shoes for diabetics. I had absolutely no idea that diabetics were prone to such nasty feet-related problems and that special shoes and socks are recommended to ensure that these problems are avoided and that feet aren’t amputated. All of which sounds very dire.

So, what are diabetic shoes and what do they do, exactly?

According to orthozilla.com, diabetic shoes are designed to “enhance foot function and comfort for diabetic patients”, which is a bit vague, so we look to epodiatry.com for a little more detail. Feet are greatly affected by diabetes, as diabetes damages nerves, causes poor circulation stiffens joints and increases the risk of infection. All of which is bad for diabetic feet because feet can be damaged but owing to nerve damage diabetics won’t know it, foot ulcers can result from bad circulation, which can cause infections that spread and could ultimately lead to amputation if not treated soon enough. Apparently diabetes is the main cause of all amputations.

Wikipedia, that venerable source of information, says that diabetic shoes are specially designed, often with inserts, which are supposed to reduce the chances of skin breaking down. They are also supposed to prevent a number of foot-related complications – strain, ulcers, calluses and amputations (a complication to be sure). Shoes are prescribed by doctors and fitted by certified pedorthist – a specialist in using footwear.

There are two types: custom moulded and depth shoes. Both are made from leather and have a form of shoe enclosure, and then they differ. Custom moulded shoes are based on a model of the wearer’s foot and have removable inserts, while depth shoes have a full length heel-to-toe liner and come in full and half sizes.

Diabetic shoes, which can look a little like “special shoes” but can also look quite fashionable, come in a number of styles, including, slippers, work shoes, walking shoes, dress shoes and boots and sandals. And then there are diabetic socks, which are “super soft, seamless and ultra-thin”. They are supportive, comfortable and provide much needed protection for diabetic feet. They reduce irritation and pressure, provide cushioning and wick away moisture to keep feet dry.

I love stuff like this. It’s so informative, and there’s nothing like finding out about the horrible things that other people have to live with to put your own nonsense in perspective. And coming from South Africa, where diabetic shoes and socks are not common knowledge, despite a large diabetic population, it’s also interesting to see exactly what is available in other countries in order to ease suffering.

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TOMS Shoes: do a little good this holiday season

Tis the festive season, the time when we all become gift obsessed (the buying and the receiving), prone to spoiling those we love, and hoping, even though we know it’s goes against the spirit of things, that we will be spoilt in return. For many, regardless of religion, it’s also a time to count blessings and fight the internal Grinch by donating to all the good causes that we meant to donate to during the course of the year but somehow never got round to. Certain members of my family, who are more selfless than I am, donate to charities instead of buying gifts (I like presents and I like giving presents, and I try to support my favourite causes throughout the year anyway).

Anyway, I shall now try to get to the point, which is that TOMS Shoes is giving you the chance to spoil yourself or a loved one with a fantastic new pair of shoes, while doing your bit for the children of Ethiopia. TOMS Shoes, a footwear company with a social conscience, has a holiday campaign going that aims to donate 30,000 pairs of shoes to Ethiopian children suffering from illnesses that are completely preventable by simply wearing shoes. To do this, TOMS will donate a pair of shoes for every pair purchased.

The campaign will run for 30 days, from the 20th November to the 20th December 2008. According to Marketwatch.com, TOMS has created a video for their website that looks into the plight of children in Ethiopia. The site also has a pretty cool meter to show customer how many shoes have been donated, so far the number is around the 15,000 mark, and with roughly two weeks still to go, it seems more than likely that the targeted 30,000 pairs will be reached.

TOMS Shoes has womens’, men’s and children’s ranges and I have to say that I was very impressed to see that they even cater to the Vegan women and men among us, although, sadly, not children. In the women’s range, the vegan wrap boots are particularly funky. I wouldn’t pair of those in my stockings this xmas. The boots are a rather dear $98, but other shoes start at a much more reasonable $42 (for men and women). So why not spoil yourself a little the holiday season, and improve a child’s life at the same time.

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Honda makes walkers with a difference

In my part of the world Honda is synonymous with cars, but the company, it seems, is going to great pains to promote its reputation as pioneers in the field of robotics. Their latest innovation, which is currently being tested at a vehicle assembly line in Sayama, Japan, is designed to support the body and protect the limbs and looks like a hybrid between a pair of mechanical shoes and a bicycle. It’s punted as being particularly useful for the elderly and reducing injuries among employees who have to stand for long periods of time (assembly lines).

honda_walk_gadget_full

The device, which has yet to be named, weighs 6.5kgs or 15 pounds, runs on lithium ion batteries with a 2-hour charge time and has 2 motors, one for each leg, which help control users’ centre of gravity and stimulate natural walking movements. It comes in three sizes (small, medium and large) and consists of a belt strap around the waist, a pair of shoes and a bicycle saddle-like seat.

According to Honda engineer, Jun Ashihara, says that it should be as easy to use as a bicycle, which is great comfort to those who can’t ride. Ashihara adds that it should reduce stress and make users feel less tired. Associated Press reporter, Yuri Kageyama, tried it out and found that it takes some getting used to. Kageyama says, “But I could sense how it supported my moves, pushing up on my bottom when I squatted and pushing at my soles to help lift my legs when I walked.”


Japan has roughly 27 million elderly people and with 21% of the population aged over 65, it has the highest proportion of over-65s in the world. This means that devices such as Honda’s mechanical walking aid will come in very handy in the coming years. In addition, the percentage of elderly across the world is rising, as people live longer than ever before, so Honda could be in the ground floor of a burgeoning global market.

honda2

Images courtesy of Honda

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WiFi By Your Toes

So you’re walking to work, or perhaps you have a mobile job – journalist, interior designer or waitress? – and you’d just like to check up on something online: your mail, news, order forms, contact details, delivery status. Well now you can do so, through your shoes.

Stefan Dukaczewski, a designer working for MSTRPLN collaborated with Ubiq Boutique to develop a line of takkies called a “A Step in the Right Direction” (ASRD). Building wireless into Nike Dunk sneakers, Dukaczewski combined advanced footwear with wearable comfort and style, so that the Nike shoes can detect WiFi hot-spots and display the results via three LEDs, while allowing complete mobility and sheer charisma.

The shoes have a lace-saver – which is flap that covers and protects the laces – a la shoes of the 80s. Under the flap of the left shoe is a wireless Internet detection unit, which scans for WiFi signals in a 50 metre radius. The unit starts scanning when pressure is applied to the pressure sensitive insole – in other words, when your feet are in the shoes. Three LEDs indicating the signal’s strength, and can be found on the shoe’s flap. The LEDs blink when no WiFi is detected, and glow when it is.

Another tech shoe that the blog, The Future of Things, covered, is the Xplorer GPS Smart shoe, which acts as a GPS navigator, tracking the wearer’s location and providing the history of his or her whereabouts – creepy! Also, the vibrating shoe, which uses electricty to make your feet shudder (for what purpose?). Lastly The Future of Things wrote about a new device that Nike developed to help athletes keep a healthier and more ordered exercise schedule – entitled “Nike + Sportband”. The band is worn on one’s wrist during running, jumping, or any other physical activity, and basically it analyses information during the working either in real-time or later, on the athlete’s PC.

A pair of ASRDs. Photo credit: The Future of things

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Modification to trainers make exercise more efficient and effective

For most of us, exercise is an unpleasant prospect. It’s like a dirty chore (like cleaning the sticky gunk off the bottom of your fridge) that hangs over your head and makes you feel increasingly guilty each day you put it off. Over time I have learnt to ignore the stabs at my conscience and as a result I can not exercise guilt-free for weeks at a time. Others, however (such as my significant other) give in to the pressure and push themselves through relentless exercise every other day. And still others (such as my father) actually take joy in pushing their bodies to their physical limits. They lecture you on the benefits and joys of physical fitness while gasping for breath, as they double over to stifle a stitch and their sweat-drenched faces turn alarming shades of purple and crimson. The picture of health and happiness.

It’s for people like me that Power Diet Shoes were invented. Power Diet shoes are your “dream diet solution”, at least according to the manufacturers. The concept is simple: take a regular pair of trainers, insert a set of weighted insoles, take a walk and voila, you’re exercising. Apparently half an hour’s worth of normal walking in these babies burns 300 calories and improves your cardio-vascular fitness levels. There are two sets of weighted insoles. The first set (which is red) weighs around 460g each, and the second set (which is grey) weighs 1kg each. It’s recommended that no matter what you level of fitness is, you start off with the red set and work your way up to the grey one.

Power Diet shoes effectively kill two birds with one stone; they help you with your cardio-vascular workout, while simultaneously subjecting you to weight-bearing exercise. And they don’t even have to be worn exclusively for exercise. You can slip them on and pop off to the shops, walk to the office or run down to the corner store to get that milk you forgot on your way home. At £115 ($229), the shoes are quite dear, but then, so is your health.

Spira Footwear has also come up with an innovative shoe that makes exercise that little bit easier. Their WaveSpring™ shoes are designed to put a spring in your step, literally. WaveSpring technology is being hailed as the most significant advancement ever achieved in footwear. While that may be overstating things a tad, the shoes are pretty nifty.

Little metal springs are inserted into the heels of trainers to cushion the feet while running, walking or hiking, and also to return 875 – 96% of energy used to the wearer. Apparently the spring is incredibly durable and will “outlast the shoe”, so you never have to worry about harmful wear and tear. Spira has united with firstStreet products in their retail endeavours, so WaveSpring shoes can be found on their website from $129.95 (£65).

All things considered, however, I think that I’ll invest my money in another comfortable pair of bunny slippers and curl on the couch with a good book.

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Take care of your feet with a good pair of shoes

At What About Shoes we’ve discussed why shoes can be bad for you, but the world is hardly likely to stop wearing shoes, so now we’ll turn our attention to ensuring that the shoes we do buy are as good for our feet as they can be.

In an article for Northwest Asian weekly, Dr Peter Jo says that we need to buy shoes that provide our feet with a measure of stability. He says that when our feet aren’t stable, our bodies react by tightening all of our muscles, and this causes undue pain and tension that can lead to headaches and problems with posture.

Dr Jo’s first suggestion for finding a good shoe is to make sure that it fits. Obvious isn’t it? Now, consider all of the shoes in your cupboard. How many do you have to wriggle your feet into? How many pinch just a bit in the toes or are a bit snug at the heel. As Dr Jo says, if you have to grunt to get it on, it doesn’t fit.

To ensure that you buy shoes that fit properly it’s advisable to shop late in the afternoon or early evening, as this is when your feet are their biggest. As inelegant as it sounds, your feet swell during the day. This is true for everyone, which means that if you buy a pair of shoes that just fit in the morning; your feet could be singing Beethoven’s 5th by the time the sun sets.

Another top tip from Dr Jo is to have both of your feet measured. One charming eccentricity shared by all pairs of feet on the planet is that one foot is always bigger than the other one. You need to ensure that your shoes are comfortable on both of your feet, the big one and the little one.

You also want to make sure that your shoes suit whatever activity you engage in. This means that you shouldn’t wear soccer boots on the golf course. Not because you could damage the greens and fairways, but because the soccer shoe won’t provide the right support for your golf swing, or during the long walks in the rough as you look for lost balls. So, basically, wear soccer shoes to play soccer, golf shoes to play golf, running shoes to run, and sturdy yet flexible walking shoes for marathon shopping sprees.

I could go on about how you shouldn’t wear shoes with heels more than three quarters of an inch (1.9cm) high, or how sandals with broad straps across your toes and with a strap at the heel are better than sandals with flimsy straps, but you’ve heard it all before. And in any event, if you’re a slave to fashion, you’re not likely to pay much attention, no matter how dire the warnings (bent spines, shortened calf muscles, bunions, hip and knee problems etc).

I could also go on about how you shouldn’t wear the same pair of shoes for more than two days in a row, so that your feet can rest and your shoes can retain their proper shape. I could stress the importance of letting your shoes breathe, which suggests that our shoe cupboards are not as sanitary as we think they are, but again, it’s all old news and not likely to cause the merest fluttering of an eyelid.

So the question then is what am I going to say? Only this: your feet have to carry you around your entire life. No matter how much you may want to, you can’t change their basic structure to suit prevailing fashion trends or exchange them for newer models when they’re old and tired. Don’t punish them by forcing them to work hard in shoes that are unreasonably uncomfortable and throw your whole body out of whack. Look after your feet well, and they will look after you in your dotage.

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