One of the healthiest things we can do every day is walk. It can improve cardiovascular health, muscle tone and balance, and mental well-being too.
Here in Virginia's Blue Ridge and Appalachian region, opportunities abound for walking in nature, which means sunshine, fresh air and friends can be part of every walk, making it less a form of exercise and more something pleasant and fun to do that just happens to be good for us.
If you are new to walking longer distances, or want to explore hiking, the first thing to do is clear it with your primary care provider.
The second thing to do is make sure you take care of your feet as they carry you down the Greenway and up the trails. The following tips can keep your toes (and heels, and arches, and ankles) in tip-top shape:
1. Avoid cotton socks.
Cotton soaks up and holds moisture, so when your feet sweat in cotton socks, they will stay wet. This encourages bacteria growth and can lead to athlete's foot and nail fungus in addition to general discomfort. Wool socks are a popular alternative, as wool wicks away moisture and dries quickly.
2. Wear well-fitting shoes.
You don't need heavy, expensive hiking boots. In fact, many experienced hikers don't wear boots at all, but light, ventilated shoes that allow air in and moisture out. The most important thing about your shoes is that they fit your feet.
Specialty running stores like Fleet Feet Sports and Runabout Sports can help with choosing and properly fitting shoes that match your feet and your gait. They don't just cater to athletes!
3. Prepare your feet.
Keep them clean, keep your toenails clipped short and stretch your feet before and after hikes.
4. Pay attention to hot spots.
These irritated patches of skin form in response to friction and are a warning that you are at risk for developing blisters. When you feel a tender spot developing on your ankle, above a toe or on the ball of your foot, stop and cover it with a bandage and then tie your shoes snugly to minimize movement.
5. If a blister does form, stop and cover it.
Do not pop blisters; just like blisters from sunburn, the fluid-filled sacs are your body’s way of preparing the next layer of skin to replace what’s been damaged. Give them the time to do their work.
Blisters and sore feet can result even from a short hike, so don't be discouraged if your next outing leaves you a bit sore.
But do contact your primary care provider if you experience any sudden, sharp or lasting pain. Physical activity can sometimes bring existing chronic issues to light, such as plantar fasciitis, that a sedentary lifestyle masks.
Your provider can refer you to a foot and ankle specialist if needed.
As long as you are watching out for your feet, they'll keep taking you where you want to go.
For information about beginner walks and hikes throughout our region, visit CarilionClinic.org/community-programs.