Words On Wellness: Walking
Summer days of expansive brightness, beckon us to slip out the door and enjoy time in nature. Walking on the uneven ground of dirt trails, sandy beaches and grassy meadows is a healthy way to balance our brains and bodies. Human feet have millions of fast-acting touch receptors, which transmit important information to the brain at a rate of 175 messages per second. The conversation these receptors have with the brain relies on constant stimulation to keep them alive, active and intelligent. When we walk on concrete or flat surfaces in buildings we engage fewer neurons with more repetition, predisposing ourselves to foot issues such as plantar fasciitis, neuroma and ankle weakness. Add to that our habit of encasing feet in stiff shoes, one can imagine how feet become flat paddles instead of the incredibly complex pieces of anatomy they are. Each foot is carefully crafted with 26 bones (one-quarter of the bones in our body), 33 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments.
All this fancy anatomy is important when we roll our feet over uneven, ever-changing surfaces that force the joints and their connections to articulate. Each joint and muscle in the foot acts independently to collect information about the topography. These sensed patterns of stimulation, instantly speed up to the brain’s cerebellum (balance center), which responds by adjusting the body’s posture according to the input it receives. The more surface variety our feet experience, the greater the cerebellum is stimulated and the faster the neurons respond to prevent falls and injury. Over time, this connection also influences body posture, which plays an integral role in maintaining healthy joints, optimally functioning muscles and general wellbeing.
By walking barefoot outdoors on sand or pebbles (or perhaps over toy-strewn indoor habitat that toddlers create!), our feet (and brain) get more practice and develop finer sensitivity to what is underneath them. You can also create benefits to balance by rolling your foot over a racquet ball, golf ball or foot roller. Trade foot massage with a friend and practice a little reflexology to keep feet flexible while also stimulating blood flow to your organs. For tired or dull feet, a mix of peppermint and lavender oils in a footbath or lotion will increase blood flow from toes to nose, and demonstrates your appreciation for their service.