The unseasonably warm, sunny weather that we've been having here in Seattle guarantees two things - one, that every Seattleite is going to obsessively spend every available waking second of their day outside, and two, the flip flops are coming out of the closet. While more outside time is undoubtedly fantastic, the flips flops are not so great. Here's a to-the-point blog post from biomechanist and Restorative Exercise™ founder Katy Bowman about why flip flops are bad for your feet, and what you can do to fix the damage they've already caused. I'll let you check that out instead of rehashing what she's already said. Instead, if you're like me, you're probably not excited about tossing your favorite sandals in the garbage, so I thought I'd give you some pointers for choosing healthy-for-your-feet warm weather footwear. My husband will attest to the fact that I have a slight minimalist shoe obsession, so you're in good hands (or feet?).
Here is most of my shoe collection, minus a couple of pairs of boots that I only wear in the coldest and soggiest of downpours. (I know, those shiny pink Mary Janes are the most amazing shoes that you've ever seen!) Other than the fuzzy boots, these are the shoes I wear all spring, summer and fall. Minimalist shoes have come a long way in the last few years and it's likely that you'll be able to find a style that suits your taste. However, they all have a few things in common. If you haven't already been initiated into the wonderful world of minimalist footwear, here are a few terms you'll need to know, as well as a brief description of why they're so important to your health:
Zero drop - This means that the height of the heel is exactly the same as the height of the front of the shoe. This is super important and is one of the key features of minimalist shoes because any sort of elevated heel (even those on an athletic shoe or men's dress shoe - it's not just about high heels!) causes the calf muscles to shorten and the rest of the body to compensate for the fact that you're being pitched forward. This can cause pain in a wide range of areas, from the feet, knees, hips and low back all the way up to the neck.
Wide toe box - The toe box is the front part of the shoe that the toes and balls of your feet occupy. You want it to be wide enough to not only accommodate all your toes comfortably, but to allow them to spread apart while walking. This is what our feet would be doing if we had been walking barefoot all of our lives as nature intended. When you routinely wear a shoe that restricts your foot movement even just a little, you can end up with issues such as bunions, neuralgia, plantar fasciitis and other fun stuff.
Flexible sole - Another key part of keeping your feet (and really your entire body!) working like they should is to let them conform to the ground while you move. This keeps the muscles and joints of the feet mobile and allows the brain to receive accurate information about the surface you're walking on. In turn, this ensures that the rest of your body correctly responds to changes in terrain. Have you ever stepped into a small depression in a grassy field and found yourself thrown completely off balance, maybe twisting an ankle or knee or tweaking your low back? If so, it's likely that the sensory system in your feet has been compromised by years of shoe wearing and is no longer able to do it's job and keep you safe. (FYI, in order to determine if a shoe is truly flexible, check to see if you can fold it in half. No vice clamps allowed! You should be able to do this without much effort, and if not, you might want to consider getting more flexible shoes.)
And to finally get back to the thing that inspired this post - it's best to avoid any sort of open shoes such as sandals, slides or slippers (apparently any style of shoe that starts with an 'S') that require you to constantly grip with your toes. Hammertoes, anyone? Here is a great flip-flop alternative that I wear for about five months out of the year, Pacific Northwest drizzle be damned. Thanks to the straps that go around the backs of the heels, my toes get to relax as they were meant to.
As I mentioned, there are tons of minimalist shoes out there now, but here's my shortlist of favorites. Have fun and transition responsibly!
(Speaking of which, the disclaimer from my shoe page bears repeating - while it can be exciting to free your feet for the first time, please take the transition to minimalist shoes/barefoot slowly! If you've been wearing bulky, supportive shoes for most of your life, your feet haven't been asked to do a whole lot, so they're going to need time to stretch, strengthen, and adapt.)