DEAR DOCTOR K:
As I’ve entered my 60s, I’ve noticed that my toenails are thicker and the skin on my feet is drier. Should I change my foot care routine?
Just like the rest of your body, your feet change with age. By age 50, you may have lost nearly half of the fatty padding on the soles of your feet. To compensate, you may want to add over-the-counter cushioning inserts to your shoes for additional padding.
As your feet age, it may also be time to consider different forms of exercise. Swimming and bicycling, for example, put less pressure on the joints of the foot than jogging or tennis.
It’s also a good idea to stretch your feet and ankles regularly to help reduce the incidence of injury. I’ve put examples, descriptions and illustrations of some stretches and exercises, below.
Exercises and stretches for foot health
To limber up your foot before attempting other exercises, try this:
Bottom of the foot stretch
To stretch the muscles on the bottom of your feet:
Top of foot stretch
To stretch the muscles on top of your feet:
Strengthening exercise for ankles
You can practice a simple exercise to increase ankle strength that mimics the movement of your foot when you press down on an accelerator or clutch in a car:
Toenail and foot skin health are important, too. Skin grows thinner and drier with age, and nails may become thicker or more brittle. If your nails are thick and yellow, it may indicate a health problem. To keep your feet healthy, exercise or massage them to increase circulation. Pay attention to nutrition, too. Maintaining good overall health helps your feet stay healthy along with the rest of you.
Another good idea is to moisturize your feet regularly so you don’t develop cracks and fissures in the skin. Not only are openings in the skin painful, they also make you more susceptible to viruses and bacteria that enter through breaks in the skin and cause infection. Pay special attention to the heels, as these can get very dry. However, do not apply lotion or cream between your toes. This area tends to be moist, and you may end up encouraging some type of fungal or bacterial growth.
As your nails become thicker with aging, they may be harder to cut. When I recommend treatments, they do not always involve pharmaceuticals. When a home remedy may work, I mention it as well. Here’s one that may help: Apply a bit of Vicks VapoRub ointment (normally used for easing chest congestion) to your thick nails, massaging it on gently. Wipe off any excess ointment before pulling on socks or going to bed. After a month or so of daily applications, you should find your toenails softer and easier to trim. It’s not clear why this works, but one of the ingredients in Vicks VapoRub (probably the eucalyptus oil) apparently softens the nails.
The questions that readers send in sometimes ask about diseases, particularly major afflictions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. But there is one category of suffering that readers ask about more than disease: decrepitude! And lots of people have questions about their aching feet. I’m particularly sympathetic as I’m writing this column, as I’m suffering an attack of gout, and my right foot hurts!