A feat of biological engineering.

Image: pinterest.com

Image: pinterest.com

“These feet were made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do….”

Nancy Sinatra was, in fact, singing about boots, but she wasn’t wrong when she said that those appendages at the bottom of our legs were meant for walking. Then there’s standing, tip-toeing, running, jumping, dancing, skating, skipping, swimming; keeping us hooked to a bike or a horse; tight rope walking. Feet can even do the work of hands for some people. Our feet do an incredible job for us; here are some of their amazing every-day achievements.

1.     Our feet keep us grounded.

Our large, oval shaped feet are what keep us connected to the ground. Together with our magnificent brains, they give us the ability to balance on different surfaces, or in different conditions (ice, wet, high wind, for example). Multiple bones and joints form two arches (longitudinal and transverse) that react to different stimuli, such as sandy or rough ground, and help keep us upright. Our feet have thousands of nerve endings that detect information about the surface they’re on. This information travels at high speed to our brain, which relays urgent messages back to the foot muscles to get working. End result – we don’t fall over.

2.     They’re at the centre of things.

We all have an invisible base of support, a no-falls safe zone. When we’re upright, with feet shoulder width apart, it’s a rough circle around the feet, about as wide as our shoulders. The closer together our feet are, the narrower the base of support. If we’re standing our body needs to be perpendicular to this circle, but if we’re running it will move a little beyond the circle as we gather momentum. If we move too far beyond our base of support we’ll start to fall. Our feet are key to helping us stay within this safe zone, informing our brain when we move too far beyond it, and activating the right muscles to bring us back in.

3.     They’re team players.

Our feet work with muscles in our legs to enable us to move. Strong calf muscles (plantar flexors) push the front of the foot into the ground. The heel rises, and bingo, you’re off walking! Next we swing our leg through space, preparing to land the heel. Shin muscles (dorsiflexors) automatically pull up the foot, so that our toes don’t get caught on the ground. Muscle work is all about sharing the load: some muscles work as prime movers such as the dorsiflexors to lift the foot, others work as stabilisers such as the muscles in the other leg to hold us up.

4.     They are super-adaptable.

Some people use their feet to draw and write. Take a look at these beautiful pictures drawn by an artist using his right foot. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Mtxh

All this work is pretty hard on your feet. Here’s how you can help keep them healthy and rested.

1.     Wear shoes that support but that aren’t too tight. Beware of shoes that pinch, especially those that squish your toes together. The shoes may look cool, but damaged toes and bunions don’t.

2.     Include a foot and ankle strengthening routine in your work-out. You can get information on specific strengthening exercises from a physiotherapist.

3.     Don’t over-do any activity, including the above-mentioned strengthening exercises. Over-use of tendons or muscles that move the foot, for example, can cause peroneal tendinitis or shin slints.

4.     See a foot specialist if you have problems with your feet (corns, bunions, pain, swelling). Regular care by the right professional will keep your feet strong and healthy and ready to work wonders for you.

5.     Pamper your feet occasionally with a home foot-spa. Even a basin of warm water and some soft towels will make them feel loved.

For more information about feet and foot care visit the College of Chiropodists of Ontario. You can search for a licensed chiropodist or podiatrist here www.cocoo.on.ca

R. Sian Owen PT



February Fitness, Keeping Up With Exercise During Colder Months.

(image sourced from bustle.com)

(image sourced from bustle.com)

Well, it’s certainly been a different kind of winter in Toronto. Not as cold as normal, but not as sunny either, and not as bright, as there hasn’t been any lasting snow.

In fact I’m finding it a bit of a blah time of year, and that can make it difficult to keep going with my exercise program. New Year’s resolutions about exercising regularly are especially difficult to sustain but I have found it helps to allow myself the flexibility of when and where I exercise. If I don’t feel like going to the gym I can exercise at home (or even outside this year!). I also try to vary my program –this not only keeps my interest, but it is good for the body to cross train. For example, it’s good to know a few different exercises for one muscle group. Quads (thigh) strengthening can be done sitting or standing, and with a weight, a resistance machine or pulley. The same is also true for cardiorespiratory exercise, for example, using the bike one day, swimming another and walking will help to keep your body adaptable.

Exercise programs should be extremely flexible. One of my clients uses soup cans for weights and stands at the kitchen counter for support and away she goes. She varies her program by choosing to strengthen a different muscle group each day and introduces a cardiovascular element by walking in the mall 3 times a week or working on her stationery bike. When the weather is fine she simply goes for a walk outside.

As well as having a varied program, she’s learned how to pace herself and so avoids injury.

How does she do this?

1.     She gradually increases her program and she/we monitor any discomfort or pain following the work out. Then we adapt the exercise as needed.

2.     She listens to her body, stopping if there is any pain, and rests if she is getting tired.

3.     She has learned to maintain a good posture throughout.

4.     It is only when she can perform the exercise with good posture, no pain and with ease that she increases.

This client is an elderly lady who has intensified her program in very small increments, but I would apply the same principles to a young athlete. It’s tempting to push ourselves to our limit – adverts for sports drinks and running shoes show people doing just that-and they always seem fine doing it. If that’s how you exercise be aware that you are more likely to injure yourself (and so have to stop the sport you love for a while) if you don’t listen to your body and pace yourself.

Take a look at some of these resources and let me know what you think.

Happy exercising!

R. Sian Owen PT

The Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada has a great resource for mall walking in the GTA


This link lists various spots for seniors to exercise:






Dream a little dream…some ways I’ve found to improve my sleep.

January in Toronto can be a little daunting, I find. The holidays are over and winter bites, but one of the things I love about the first few days after New Year is the subtle lengthening of the afternoon. We start to leave behind the long hours of darkness, and I start to feel less like a bear who can’t find a good place to hibernate. I’ve found that many people experience sleep difficulties in winter. Dull, grey days that morph into dense nightfall in the middle of the afternoon can make us feel as if we never fully woke up in the first place. So when bed time comes around, we don’t feel ready to sleep. 

Read More

Exercise isn’t just for summer.

A couple of weekends ago most of Canada set its clocks back one hour, gaining some daylight in the mornings. Fall doesn’t end here, I’m glad to say, but for me the changing of the clocks always heralds the beauty and drama of winter. I begin to anticipate our 6 month companion’s return: the silent elegance of falling snow, frigid air slicing through ice-laden trees, cormorants flying low in long whipping lines over the crystalline blue of Lake Ontario. I’ve grown to love winter in Canada, but I’ve had to learn how to negotiate my right to enjoy it, to carry on doing the things I love to do, even when the snow is piled high. 

Read More

Food insecurity is the term to describe the state of some of us.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time for me. In the lush colours, stormy skies and rich harvests, I see both a celebration of life and a reminder of the need to be thankful for our health and for the food we so often take for granted. Thanksgiving brings families together around glistening turkey and fragrant pumpkin, buttered corn and sweet cranberry; it’s a sensual delight, a beautiful breathing space between the subtle melancholy of late summer and the early days of iron winter.

Read More