Healthy Feet, Happy Heart

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gray's bones of the foot

The foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

With 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments, our feet are marvels of engineering. Their relative health and well-being impact us from head to toe, and the data from the thousands of nerve endings on the soles of our feet give vital positional information to our central nervous system. This allows our musculoskeletal system to quickly react to changes in terrain and adjust on the fly to maintain our balance and upright posture. The skin on the bottom of our foot is the only skin actually intended to bear our full body weight and foot maven Katy Bowman considers the sole of the foot a sensory organ. However, one of the most important functions of the feet and lower leg is the role they play in cardiovascular health via the skeletal muscle pump, a mechanism by which blood is returned from the lower body to the heart.

The skeletal muscle pump, also known as the venous pump, is defined as “contraction of muscle tissue surrounding a lower-limb vein (compartmented by valves), allowing venous return against gravity”. The venous pump is further divided into two types, the foot pump and the calf pump, with the deoxygenated blood (venous return) moving up the lower limb with each step at heel strike and again at toe off. Thus, with every step we take, we are reducing the load on our hard-working heart and helping it to function more efficiently. In addition, a 2004 study by Padberg, Johnston, & Sisto showed promise for lower leg exercise as a treatment for chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), a condition where the veins cannot return enough blood to the heart, which can result in swelling, pain, ulcers, and other skin changes.

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Keeping your feet moving not only feels great, it also is a fantastic and easy way to keep your heart and related cardiovascular structures healthy. Taking the foot through its range of motion will help the deoxygenated blood flow back up to the heart, where it can be reoxygenated and sent on its way to nourish your tissues. To facilitate the pump action from the lower extremities, weight-bearing on the feet to both strengthen and stretch the muscles of the feet and calves is an important component, as is consistent practice. What we do every day generally has more impact on our health than what we do once in a while.

In Yoga Tune Up®, we are big proponents of self-massage to keep our bodies mobile and healthy and to prevent musculoskeletal problems before they can occur. You can use YTU therapy balls on your feet to massage and mobilize both the soft and hard tissues of the feet. This will also increase the circulation in these hard-working tissues. Jill’s book, The Roll Model, goes through wonderful foot and lower leg sequences on pages 194–214, and check out all the previous posts on feet here.

YTU also has great dynamic poses that will get your skeletal muscle pump working—along with challenging your balance, honing your proprioceptive capabilities, and increasing your dynamic stability—are monk walks (walking lunges), marching, and any movements that improve ankle range of motion.

The most important part, however, is to move, as too much sitting or standing can allow the blood to pool in the lower leg, which can ultimately lead to CVI, a condition we all want to avoid. Movement is medicine, motion is lotion, so find some activity you enjoy and let your feet support your heart health!

References

  • Bowman, K. (2014). Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health through Natural Movement. Carlsborg, WA: Propriometrics Press.
  • Knight, J., Y. Nigam, & A. Jones. (2009). Effects of bedrest 1: Cardiovascular, respiratory, and haematological systems. Nursing Times 105:21 (early online publication).
  • Miller, J. (2014). The Roll Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility, and Live Better in Your Body. Las Vegas: Victory Belt.
  • Mooney, J. (2009). Illustrated Dictionary of Podiatry and Foot Science. Elsevier Limited. Retrieved from http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/venous+pump
  • Padberg, P.T., M.V. Johnston, & S.A. Sisto. (2004). Structured exercise improves calf muscle pump function in chronic venous insufficiency: A randomized trial. Journal of Vascular Surgery 39(1): 79­–87. doi: http://www.jvascsurg.org/article/S0741-5214(03)01412-5/abstract
  • Riggs, K. (2013, April 15). Intrinsic muscles of the feet are too important! [blog]. Retrieved from http://katherineriggs.co.uk/2013/04/15/intrinsic-muscles-of-the-foot-are-too-important/
  • Society for Vascular Surgery. (2011, January). Chronic venous insufficiency. Vascular Web. Retrieved from http://www.vascularweb.org/vascularhealth/pages/chronic-venous-insufficiency.aspx

 

Dawn Adams

Dawn has been practicing yoga since the mid-1990s. She took her first class at the Alameda Yoga Station in 1996 and has since studied under experienced teachers such as Sandy Blaine, JoAnn Lyons, and Donald Moyer. Dawn graduated from the Advanced Studies Program at the Yoga Room in Berkeley in 2009 and she continues to deepen her personal practice. Yoga has become an integral part of her life, especially because of its nurturing and centering aspects. Through practicing yoga, she has found that undoing is just as important as doing. In her teaching, she hopes to instill a sense of adventure and exploration of yoga, with a focus on finding balance and joy through practice. Most recently, Dawn found Yoga Tune Up and, fascinated by the functional approach to movement, completed the YTU Level 1 Certification. She is excited to share her unique approach to practice.

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Shelley

The movement of our feet have implications all the up the body.i love how you explained efficient walking as it relates to a well pumping heart. We think the feet only effect us structurally

Mélanie Roy

Wow, your article is very interesting and surprising! The health of the heart connected to the foot! Who would have believed it!

Suzanne Boivin

Well explain and documented thanks I will take care of my feet!

Tara Rochlin

Reading this post inspired me to roll my feet under my desk! I’ve never connected the feet to the heart before for increased pump action. Thanks!

Nicole

I almost always end my stretch yoga class with legs up the wall and tell my students that by taking the weight off of their feet they are literally turning their circulation upside down. Prior to reading this article, I was not aware of the venous pump and it’s function but feel that inverting can be just as beneficial and important for heart health as being more active.

Sabrina

I’m working with seniors and this is a new approch that I’ll start for sure, the feet and the heart connection is a revelation.

Regards,
Sabrina

Amber Bilak

No wonder I feel so much better after taking a walk. I am so interested to learn more about how this works. Thanks for the citations, I always appreciate seeing where information comes from.

Nathania

For most of us, we don’t pay attention to the whispers in our bodies until we are in pain. Feet are one of those areas that we torture in shoes and lose so much control over. Sometimes the other joints are affected like the knees or hips. Reading this article brought back the incredible importance of foot function and awareness not just for joints but to help bring blood back up to the heart. Move them, train them and love them!

Diana Azavedo

It is no wonder that reflexology is so popular. The feet and ankles are not give as much importance in movement , we tend to focus on the bigger muscle groups and ignore the tinier ones. Hence I love this artiecl and emphasis on the feet.I particularly love its role in helping with the deoxygenated blood flow back up to the heart, where it can be reoxygenated and sent on its way to nourish your tissues. Very apt title to a thought provoking article , especially to us teachers to add foot love into our workout sequences. Thanks Dawn.

Katrina LK

In the last few years, despite practicing yoga and being at least moderately active, my arches have started falling and my feet have begun to pronate and make that less-than-ideal posture their new normal. After YTU, I LIVE for the end of the day when I can take off my shoes, hold hands with my feet, roll out my arches, and work on toe mobility. This article reinforces my drive to make sure my feet are healthy and can build a better me from the ground up!

Linda

I did not know that our feet and lower legs were important to our cardiovascular health. That was certainly a light bulb moment and I will be researching this further. That is so important to know that we really need to take care of our feet. I roll out my feet often but not often enough. Thank for the eye opening information.

Linda

sarah

I am often talking to my students about the importance of the feet. They are so important for alignment/posture. I had no idea that they were so important for heart health as well, although I’m not surprised. My acupuncturist has spent a lot of time with my feet for various ailments. It is nice to have another thing to add to my list of reasons why we should think about/show some love to our feet! Thank you.

Monica

I learned so much from reading your post! I never considered before what a large role the feet play in our bodies’ health- I always just took them for granted. Aside from “grounding down” and equally distributing my weight in yoga class, and what color pedicure I want to get (kidding) I don’t usually give them any more thought. Knowing now what a significant part they play in the central nervous system and cardiovascular system makes me want to take much better care of them! We all must continue to move and be active, engage in self-massage techniques with therapy… Read more »

Genevieve

Fascinating, the feet function for cardiovascular health via the skeletal muscle pump! Going to dive further, feet first, thank you.

Dani Ibarra

This was so informative! Great article, thank you so much