I am a touch envious of my sister who, inexplicably to me, is able to spend entire days on high heels. She puts them on to go to work and doesn’t take them off until she gets home, whatever time that might be. In between, she will have negotiated with either driving or with the Rome subway system; getting up and down from her desk job; foraging for lunch in the center of Rome and, possibly, an aperitif with her friends before trekking back home. She says she is comfortable and used to it. I find it hard to believe.
Despite my pink handmade clogs everyone makes fun of, I am not ready to give up high heels for good. On occasion, I take out my Manolos for a night out, or half a day when I know I won’t be walking around much and a lot of sitting will be taking place. Even in my younger days, my feet never had the stamina for an entire day in high heels. In Milan, I would walk to work in my sneakers and heels in my backpack.
I have now convinced myself that 20 years of yoga have made my feet wider and bigger. But, when I started digging into the subject of how our feet age, I came to the disconcerting realization that bigger feet are another of the charming by-products of aging.
Besides cheeks, jowls and butts, gravity also works its magic on the less resilient ligaments that connect to the feet, and it squeezes fluid from the older leaky veins in our lower extremities, causing the “attractive” swelling so common in older people. Looser tendons and ligaments equal bigger feet.
This most obvious age-related change, however, can be overlooked by many people. A 2006 study looked at the footwear choices of 440 patients at a U.S. veterans’ affairs hospital — most of whom were men, averaging about 67 years — and found that only 25% of them were wearing the right size shoe.
“Over the years, people tend to remember their Social Security number and their shoe size, but they’re remembering their shoe size from when they were 25 years old,” Dr. Caselli, a podiatrist, says.
According to Dr. Kendrick Whitney, assistant professor at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, “As the front of the foot widens and the arch lowers, the foot becomes not only longer but more flexible and flatter, letting the ankle roll inward and increasing the chance for sprains.”
If I were to keep on linking this chain of events further, I would have to tell you that, as the foot becomes wider, longer and less padded, the arch becomes overstretched: enter bunions sticking out from the big toe. Insert some weeping.
All this happens regardless of what we do but, if we add high heels to the mix, the foot slides forward, forcing the toes into unnatural shapes and redistributing our weight incorrectly. This is not me talking but Dr. Nevins of the American College of Podiatry. The bad posture that ensues, I should remember to tell my sister, will eventually put pressure on the sciatic nerve. Also according to Dr. Nevins, switching between heels and flats can be a mistake, as the heels contribute to shorten the Achilles’ tendon that then gets stretched by flat shoes, leading to plantar fasciitis.
So, what is a fashion conscious middle-aged lady to do, one who is not ready to don Birkenstocks 24/7?
The American Osteopathic Association has the following suggestions:
- Wear heels only when minimum amount of walking or standing is necessary;
- Make sure the shoes are the right size;
- Alternate the type of shoes you wear from one day to the next;
- Spend some time stretching.
Also, shuffling around in flip-flops or slippers or flats might not be the best course of action in our downtime: rather invest in a pair of running shoes with shock absorbing soles. You will even look trendy.
Top image: new spring colors for the classic Manolo Blahnik pump