Strong Feet Make Healthy People
Balance and mobility issues affect many people as we age, and can significantly impact quality of life. Fortunately, there are actions we can take to prevent problems, and natural integrative approaches that can help reverse them.
I founded Aviva Natural Health Solutions almost 20 years ago as a vehicle to share my integrative lifestyle approach to health and wellness. Based on incorporating well-researched, proven health-promoting concepts into our daily lifestyle, my approach strives for constant improvement, always moving towards attaining high-energy long term health. Increasingly important with age, when good decisions are made that can fit into our daily routine, improved health can be attained without conscious effort and constant struggle. Through nutrition, exercise, moving our body, and challenging our mind, we can age more gracefully, lower our risk of disease, and continue to be productive in our senior years.
Sleeping, sitting, and walking take up most of our day and are all major areas of life that can be improved by integrating health-promoting solutions. The quality of our bed, bedding, and pillow can dramatically affect sleep quality, as can avoiding exposure to blue light at night. Active seating solutions can prevent adaptive muscle shortening which contributes to the back pain, posture problems, and muscle soreness caused by sitting on conventional static chairs all day. Balance and gait can be improved by learning tai chi, and by wearing the right kind of shoes that prevent and correct foot, knee, hip, and leg problems.
Balance is the ability to distribute your weight in a way that enables you to stand and move without falling, and recover if you stumble. Complex coordination between our eyes, muscles, bones, joints, and central nervous system is critical for maintaining healthy balance and mobility. Problems with any of these factors (along with some medical conditions and prescription drugs) can affect balance. Poor balance affects millions of adults, is the chief cause of bone-breaking falls, and can lead to inactivity that further weakens muscles and bones, exacerbating balance problems.
The major cause of injuries in older adults, falls can lead to reduced ability and a loss of independence. Globally, an estimated 646,000 people die from them each year (nearly 5,000 in Canada), with 37.3 million cases requiring medical attention for injuries – the most common including traumatic brain injury, hip fractures, back, and shoulder injuries. In Canada, falls are the most common cause of injury-related hospital admissions among those aged 65 years or older. Fractures are common, as seniors often have porous and fragile bones due to osteoporosis. The surgeries and sedation required after an injury can also present additional trauma and complicate recovery. Seniors often aren't able to recover fully, overall health declines can follow, and associated care needs increase significantly.
Muscle strength and proprioception (sensing motion and joint position) are critical factors in our ability to balance. This allows for precise, controlled movements in the daily tasks of life and helping to avoid injury. When these systems are functioning properly, our involuntary reflexes work to maintain balance and posture at all times and prevent falls.
Walking on hard, flat surfaces (either barefoot or wearing conventional shoes) restricts the movement of the feet and weakens muscles. When wearing traditional footwear, the body compensates for the lack of work your feet are doing by making the hips work too hard, activating the thigh muscles to step forward and put one foot in front of the other. Over time, this unnatural interaction between your feet and hips leads to muscular imbalances and poor posture. Traditional footwear is a major cause of plantar fasciitis (heel spurs), varicose veins, inflammation of the Achilles tendon, hallux rigidus (arthrosis and crookedness of the big toe), back and knee pain, neck tension, and headaches.
In the 1980s, Swiss engineer Karl Müller discovered the health-enhancing advantages of walking on the springy clay ground of rice paddies when he lived in Korea. His initial invention – MBT – a round-soled, unsteady shoe, was contrary to the footwear industry's basic principle of supporting, guiding, and absorbing. MBTs became a worldwide success, selling millions of pairs, inspiring dozens of copycats, and turning the shoe industry upside down. Not content with the success of MBT, Müller wanted to continue to improve on his initial design and pursue creating a shoe that could perfectly replicate that rice paddy feeling when standing and walking on hard, flat surfaces. He sold his share in MBT and started from scratch with his ‘kybun’ concept.
Humans originally walked on soft or uneven ground, which strengthens the feet, resulting in a resilient physiology and strong spine. While flat surfaces are wonderful for driving a car, they contribute to a range of problems when walking or running. After years of research and development, Müller and his team succeed in imitating the feeling of walking barefoot in a rice paddy, but on hard, flat surfaces. The elastic springy kybun sole activates the foot muscles like no other shoe, strengthening the foot dynamically, absorbing shocks, and guiding the body into an upright posture.
Around two years ago I sustained a serious injury at the gym, tearing the meniscus in both knees doing leg extensions, leaving me unable to walk. An MRI confirmed the damage, and the doctor indicated that my only solution was full knee replacement surgery. I was already familiar with MBT footwear and had been reading about Müller’s kybun shoes, including many testimonials from people with similar (and in some cases much worse) problems, so I decided to try a pair. After less than two weeks of wearing them, I was able to get around without pain. After another month, I was able to walk up stairs. Within about six months, my knees felt even better than before the injury. I felt this was a great miracle for me, and it led me to learn a great deal more about the benefits of footwear featuring Müller's mechano-therapy design. The technology in the kybun sole is not only effective for treating meniscus damage, it can also help ease acute or chronic knee pain caused by ligament damage by gradually building up the joint and stabilizing muscles.
The range of health problems that can be improved with kybun shoes reaches far beyond relieving back, knee, foot, hip, and neck pain. Gait and balance problems can be improved for those with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. Users have reported kybun to be effective at reducing pain from herniated and slipped disks, spinal stenosis, and scoliosis. Other conditions that may be helped include vertigo, dizziness, numbness of the feet, and calf pain. Improvements in balance and strength can also be important for pregnant women.
While many people turn to drugs or supplements designed to reduce pain and improve circulation, I believe the most effective solution is to combine natural supplements with properly designed footwear, which improves circulation, acting as a natural anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, while strengthening the feet.
Shoes and supports that stabilize the foot (especially the orthotics commonly recommended by podiatrists and pedorthists), prevent the proper use of the feet, putting all the stress on the hips. While there can be initial pain relief, those solutions are counterproductive over time. The long term effects of this unnatural stress on the hips contributes to a wide variety of health conditions, many of which may seem unrelated to the feet. The rapid rise of hip replacement surgeries (which have doubled in the last ten years), is due to wear and tear on the hip joints. Intense hip activity pulls the upper part of the body forward, which over time results in the typical hunched-over gait we see in the elderly.
Disproportionate hip activity contributes to shortened muscles, tension, and strain on the joints. A foot-oriented gait works to straighten posture, improve balance, reduce stress on the muscles and joints, and strengthen the foot muscles.
Working to incorporate positive changes into our diet and daily routine can produce health benefits over time with minimal effort. The shoes we wear can either contribute to health problems or work in our favour, helping to maintain balance and avoid gait problems as we age. Shifting emphasis from the hip muscles to the feet, and training the body to use the foot muscles properly may be the single most important change anyone can make for their long term health. Strengthening the feet with kybun shoes can ease pain, improve gait, boost circulation, and improve well-being. Changing my footwear helped me regain the joy of movement, and truly changed my life.
More on foot strengthening: See toe spacers.