January 02, 2011

NEW YEAR'S "RESOLUTIONIZING" - ARE WE THERE YET?

Christmas was simple this year. The macaroni wreaths and salt dough snowmen my sons made in kindergarten nestled in our new, pre-lit tree. The fireplace mantle was clear of the usual glittery drape of ribbon and stars. Instead, a few sprigs of gold eucalyptus lay on the hearth. Sitting on the couch, after only an hour of decorating instead of five, I wasn't drowning in the visual chaos of crimson and sparkle. No one was disappointed either. My sons only cared that I was still embarrassing them with front-branch displays of their creations.

So, what was different this year? Lack of time? Fewer funds? Sagging spirit? Energy deficiency? Not really. These things mingle in my life at times like the revolving backdrop to a stage play - just like they do for everyone. The simple holiday decor was, honestly, my escape from clutter on the other side of the wall. Yes - too much stuff and too little of it organized - I needed an escape. And so my New Year's resolution came to be: NO MORE CLUTTER!

Well, I've heard that one before. I'd love to say that my clutter has only accumulated this past year. Unfortunately, it's a lot like the Bermuda grass we have growing in our yard - it quickly takes root, it infiltrates areas you don't want it to, and it's nearly impossible to get rid of. No, this creeping clutter was sown a long time ago. What's different this time, however, is that it's affecting my well-being. It slows me down and robs me of valuable energy. My "being" doesn't feel so well. Enough said.

So, there you have it. A simplified Christmas to - well - pave the way to a more simplified life. My resolution is confirmed, and I am determined. But I also know that determination is not enough to get the job done. I have come up with some strategies that are a blend of my more successful personal and professional experiences. Here's what I recommend:

FOCUS ON ONE RESOLUTION

There is something inherently cleansing about making a list of 150 New Year's resolutions. The euphoria that comes from listing them almost substitutes for actually doing them. BUT - the long list is equally demoralizing when your list's cross-outs fall way short of your expectations. Your deflated self-confidence is proportionate to your initial zealousness. So, limit - hard as it may be - your resolutions to just ONE.

TAKE INVENTORY

In order to understand that which you are trying to change, you must first take a hard look at it. What IS the issue? Break it down like a high school student dissecting a fish in biology class. Get to know its parts. Identify how this issue - like the fish - came to be. Parts of the issue may have developed and grown without your awareness. Each part, however, contributes significantly to the whole. So, it's time to examine your issue's parts and figure out why the "whole" is a problem in your life. It's time to get out your scalpel and tweezers and start exploring.

CREATE A PLAN COMPRISED OF SMALL STEPS

I don't know about you, but time is as elusive these days as is my memory. I refuse to attribute either one to aging; but I do think they have contributed to my issue of clutter - not having time to focus, think, and then cull what I no longer need. These small, manageable steps, then, are crucial to my "resolutionizing" success. I have broken down my plan into action steps that take less than an hour to complete. Again, large chunks of time are non-existent in my day-to-day life. Thus, my steps toward my goal must fit into my schedule and as often as possible if I am to make progress. EVERY step is important to the whole of the plan. That fish on the lab table in biology class couldn't exist without its teeny, tiny brain (and it IS small).

Keep the "resolutionizing" process simple. I can over-think, over-plan, and over-collect in my life because I tend to over-perform in general. But this process - if kept simple - will help me tackle a major hindrance in my life. I equate this process to my hikes in the mountains. I am most energized when the trails are free of debris. My momentum remains consistent, my stamina fuels me efficiently, and I reach my destination - one step at a time - feeling exuberant and successful. New Year's resolutionizing CAN be that way.

Now, where did I put that blank notebook I wanted to use to take inventory ...

November 26, 2010

YOUR SABOTAGING TWIN

Until age eight, I tangled with my younger sister - constantly. We bickered and argued, competed and succeeded in imagined rivalries. Only eleven months separated our births. We were almost twins - or so we'd giggle to each other on the days we formed a truce. On the other days, we barely spoke in our shared bedroom. Our lives physically and emotionally collided until, one day, we realized we could be friends. We could be allies in the cruel world of growing up, helping instead of sabotaging each other. Within every human being, a similar rivalry often exists. No siblings required. Whether it's a vicious stand-off between our two selves or one side incessantly chattering in the other side's ear, stepping out of our comfort zone can be the ultimate trigger.

A new client of mine was on the verge of quitting - exercise, dieting, and the whole "getting healthy thing." Oddly, she'd been feeling energized, strong - even euphoric - during our training sessions. She felt motivated to lose those fifty extra pounds and to reclaim her triceps. That was until an inner twin kept driving her to McDonald's and ordering a Big Mac and strawberry shake. Oh, and fries, too. Why, she pleaded, was she blatantly sabotaging her own efforts to succeed? This scenario had played out during past attempts she'd made to get healthy, and she demanded to know why.

First, I reminded my client that exercise is a non-negotiable. It isn't temporary, disposable, or replaceable. It must be a "given" in her lifestyle, period. She swallowed hard hearing that. It is tough to hear that quitting isn't an option. Why the inner battle then, she demanded to know.

Change is the issue - not the decision to get healthy. A comfort zone exists within each of us. It is unique to each person and is influenced by their life circumstances. The comfort zone feels cozy, non-stressful, familiar. It is what I imagine hibernation to feel like. Disruption of that safe harbor causes a reaction within us - a discomfort that is usually accompanied by fear.

For my client, her discomfort presented like a taunting twin. This twin's familiar, threatening tongue lashed out whenever she tried to make healthy food choices or to independently exercise. My client was surrendering to the twin's strong, convincing voice, and that made my client angry. Together, my client and I examined the beliefs she held of herself based upon her unique life experiences, and we could see how these beliefs were holding her back from change. You see, each of us has a vested interest in old beliefs or we wouldn't cling so tightly to them. My client needed to understand, first, what her beliefs about herself were. Then, she needed to find out what benefit she received from maintaining them. A benefit might be as simple as the comfort of routine. No surprises. No risks and little tension. Or the benefit could be as complex as the affirmation of a distorted self-image created by an abusive environment. The key is awareness first. Know thyself.

Once these questions are probed and some answers begin to reveal themselves, then it makes sense why change causes the evil twin to emerge. In order to face down the strength of the opposition, I suggest taking the following steps:

1. ACKNOWLEDGE the discomfort created by making a change. This immediately reduces the anxiety. It's like a parent assuring her terrified child that there are no monsters under the bed. Together, they peek under the bed and see only darkness - no boogie men lurking underneath. So there, they say to Mr. Fear. You can go away now because we recognize you.

2. TAKE ACTION in spite of the discomfort. Having a plan provides structure and a map in case you lose your way. And you will. But you can go back to the main road, read the signs, and you'll be back on your way. Mileage markers are like recorded successes. We need to create our own mileage markers. On a long trip, these successes can build confidence and restore purpose. So, follow your plan, get back on the main drag when you veer off, and load up those mileage markers at every opportunity.

3. TRUST yourself to handle the unrest generated by the positive changes you're making. The disgruntled twin will quiet down. You can't make a smooth cake batter without first mixing the lumpy flour, sugar, eggs, and butter. Take responsibility for seeking the riches of what life has to offer beyond your comfort zone. Trust yourself to make the jump and keep churning when the texture of the batter isn't smooth.

There is comfort in certainty - until you realize that life is dynamic and certainty is just an illusion. Go ahead, initiate change for the better and face the initial discomfort on your terms. After a while, the trouble-making twin will retreat. She has to. You're in charge now.

November 07, 2010

SHOW, DON'T TELL

Chemistry class, for me, was a chore. The periodic table resembled an overcrowded eye chart and had even less relevance to my every day life. Memorizing letters and numbers was torture. With a "show, don't tell" learning style, I needed to see what I was expected to learn. The chemistry labs saved me. Foaming test tubes with amber bubbles did more for my understanding of chemistry because I could see - sometimes even feel - what was occurring.

Body chemistry is no different. In fact, it's a "show, don't tell" lesson every day in every human body. And as students of our bodies, we can choose to learn by what we see and feel - or we can wait for the letters and numbers lecture from our doctor. Our choice.

If you observe how you feel at any moment of the day - energetic, tired, irritable - you are actually looking at your body's chemistry. That chemistry dictates how you feel, how you think, how you perform. And, at the core of that chemistry is an ongoing process called blood sugar control.

For me, visualizing blood sugar control helps me understand how my actions affect this process, and thus how I feel. Beginning with my bowl of oatmeal in the morning, my body starts converting those oats into glucose - or sugar - for energy. My cells, including my brain cells, are waiting anxiously for this delivery of energy so they can function. Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, does the chauffeuring of the glucose. Resembling a city bus, insulin delivers the glucose passengers to their offices - the cells - to begin their work day. If the bus gets overcrowded, the office doors begin to close because the offices are now full. No more cell space. The insulin bus roams the city streets for a bit, but eventually it must deliver the glucose passengers to the unemployment office. These passengers are surplus. Pretty soon, the unemployment office waiting room is full, too. And it stays full. This is the body's version of fat storage. Surplus glucose is stored as body fat.

Oh my. Don't tell me. I see and feel it. I'm tired, my belly is a puffy pillow, and my patience threshold is in the negative numbers. What caused my glucose passengers to proliferate and my cell offices to resist the extra help? It's complicated. And it's simple, too. No, don't point the accusing finger at carbohydrates. Without them, you couldn't lift your finger to point it. You couldn't even think the thought. Carbohydrates, once broken down into glucose, fuel our body like gas fuels a car. Without carbs, we drag, we moan and groan, and our stomachs crave the wallpaper on our walls. We are not happy at all.

So how much is too much? It's complicated. It's chemistry, after all. But it's also simple if you look, listen, and feel. It's about balance, really. When your body is ingesting too many over-processed grains or feeding on sweets, it will show you loud and clear that you aren't listening. Fast and convenient food choices correlate to fast and furious blood sugar spikes and drops. Instead, try less processed carbohydrates like a slice of whole wheat bread, and then combine it with a protein/unsaturated fat like natural peanut butter. Now look, listen, and feel. Better?

Volumes have been written about blood sugar management, all of which are valuable. Distilled, this same information espouses BALANCE. Learn how carbohydrates, proteins, and fats as a team can work wonders for your blood sugar. Together, they can be miracle workers instead of surplus workers that are stored as fat.

Body chemistry is a class that never ends. The final exam comes at the end - literally. But the lessons are the "show, don't tell" type. Every day of your life. Pay attention, and the learning will begin. The lesson isn't on a wall-sized chart; it's in the lab - your body. Now look, listen, and feel. The show is going on right now.

October 24, 2010

GETTING BACK TO GETTING STARTED

Perched forward with my heels braced for propulsion, a racing pulse choked my throat as I anticipated that single gun shot. I was ready and focused on that moment - the start. Once a sprinter, I knew I could be so anxious in those starting blocks that I might lurch forward too soon. False starts - that mighty movement with unmatched momentum that ceases as fast as it begins. A little disappointed and with slightly diminished energy, it's back to the starting line. Ready to try again.

Beginning an exercise program is like starting a race - sometimes the forward momentum stops prematurely. Here you are, ready to get strong and lose the extra pounds. Nothing is going to stop you. The race begins, but then your initial propulsion stalls way before the finish line. What's up with that? Deflated and less energetic, you trek back to the starting blocks. Or maybe not.

Getting back to getting started is a common theme with exercise newbies. In fact, 50 percent of the individuals who start a self-monitored exercise program will drop out of that program within six months (Georgia State University Department of Kinesiology and Health). Yikes. Health clubs depend upon that statistic for business. But you, the individual, are struggling to stay in the race for reasons that don't include revenue generation. You need to get stronger, healthier - even look a little more attractive for your flailing body image. The reasons are compelling. So why do you slow down - even quit - when you know you must stay in the race?

Exercise adherence - or staying with an exercise program - seems to be dependent on a variety of psychological, physical, social, and situational factors. These factors are at work to varying degrees within all folks who attempt to exercise. But it is how you respond to them - your ATTITUDE - that can most affect your stick-to-it-iveness.

One psychological factor to examine would be your overall attitude toward physical activity. Do you like to move your body, to challenge its abilities in sport or recreation? If fitness is as foreign to you as flying would be to a dog, then your work may have to begin here. Understanding what role physical activity has played in your life previously and where it needs to fit in presently is important to your success. Releasing old beliefs that may be holding you back, and then refreshing your mindset, can free you to move forward.

The same is true if you are disconnected to your body. How do you feel about your body? If you dislike your physical self and want to disassociate from it, you will be involved in a tug-of-war with your exercise efforts. You may know the feeling of having to walk beside someone you're in a verbal stand-off with. There is tension, some anger, and isolation. If that other entity is your body, then try to imagine working together to help each other while enmeshed in that resistance. Not good. So, your body image and confidence are important to consider at the outset. They will impact your progress.

Another critical psychological factor is your degree of self-motivation. From past experiences, you may recognize that you depend upon external motivators to stay on track toward a goal. In exercise, that may translate to requiring a certain class, instructor, or time slot to work out. What begins as a preference soon becomes a rigid need base. If these external factors change - and they will - you will feel unable to continue. Until you decide that YOU are responsible for motivating yourself first, your program will always be threatened by change.

Physical factors also impact exercise adherence. Being overweight or limited by chronic pain, injury, or disability can thwart your best efforts toward exercising. Your challenges can be felt every time you move. Diligence and perseverance are the fuel in your tank. Knowing that exercise can improve or slow the decline of your condition is an incentive, for sure. But it isn't easy to stay committed to an activity that reminds you of your challenge every time you lift an arm or move a leg.

Social and situational factors can include support from significant others, or the availability of a facility or equipment. Again, attitude - or finding alternative ways to keep going - is crucial to your progress. Options always exist. It is your willingness to discover and use them that makes the difference.

I believe that exercise adherence is a process. Beginning with an honest appraisal of your pair of "racing shoes" - your psychological, physical, social, and situational equipment - is the first step before entering the race. Know thyself. Must you address or solve all of these potential obstacles before you begin an exercise program? In a perfect world, maybe. Instead, knowing yourself and then planning ahead for potential derailment is like putting your sneakers on the correct feet. It makes for a better start.

With a self-assessment in hand, you can apply some strategies at the outset of your exercise program. Try setting specific goals and use charts or journals to log your progress. Be realistic; not over-zealous. Abandon all-or-nothing thinking. And start with small steps.

If your body image taunts you, wear exercise clothes that make you feel good. Don't hide your body underneath overly baggy garments. That only adds to the "bigness" you may already feel. As you work your exercise program, work on your body image simultaneously. Praise instead of finding fault. And create a reinforcement or reward system that acknowledges your progress.

For those of you with physical limitations or pain, consider working with a qualified trainer initially. They can help you feel safe and confident with a program designed specifically for you. They can also help assess your progress and make necessary adjustments when you feel discouraged.

Finally, enlist supportive friends and family, and disregard those who may sabotage your efforts. Find an exercise facility that promotes health and wellness rather than vanity. An environment that unconditionally welcomes all fitness levels is ideal. If you exercise at home, invest in the appropriate equipment. Do your research or consult a professional.

No one can guarantee that you will adhere to your exercise program. But, like the sprinters in the starting blocks, you need to show up with your best racing shoes on. Ready, set, go. A false start or two happens. But get back to getting started. When the gun goes off, push ahead and stay in the race. Put one sneakered foot in front of the other, and you'll get there. Promise.

October 17, 2010

MENOPAUSE - ARE WE THERE YET?

Last week, I had a birthday. Yahoo. My excitement level has waned some since childhood, but I still get joyful. Sort of. You see, I'm THERE. A few years into my fifties, and most women (some men, too) know what I'm talking about. The words, "I'm celebrating menopause" just fell out of my mouth when a gym member innocently asked what birthday this was for me. He looked perplexed and a little scared when I answered. However, the woman behind him on the cross trainer began laughing hysterically. She knows.

The word menopause simply means the pause - or ending - of the monthly menstrual cycle. The menopause experience, however, is not so simple. Each woman's experience is as unique as she is, but some symptoms seem more universal than others. Hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes - these can punctuate a woman's life years before actual menopause. They are like the blinking yellow caution lights you see before entering a crazy intersection. You are warned ahead of time. The lights, like the sweat-drenched nightgown, prepare you for what is up ahead. So, you have a little time to plan your actions. With menopause, you get ample warning. Years, usually. Challenging doesn't begin to describe this transition time in your life. Yet, it can be a time for taking inventory and making lifestyle changes that can positively impact both your physical and emotional health forever.

In the early 1900's, menopause coincided with the end of a woman's life. No wonder menopause was viewed negatively! With the present life expectancy of more than eighty years, women have a third of their life yet to embrace. But how can you make these years your most productive, energetic, and healthy? What can you do to manage the symptoms that undermine those very goals?

Defining the physiology of menopause isn't the goal of this article. Addressing some of the symptoms of menopause and recommending management strategies is. For those who are interested in vitamin supplements or hormone replacement, you should discuss this with your doctor. I am going to suggest ways you can ride this physical and emotional roller coaster naturally, so that you can have some degree of symptom management and, ultimately, improved health.

HOT FLASHES & NIGHT SWEATS - This is the body's thermostat gone wild. It feels like a fire in your core has ignited and the body's sprinkler system has turned on to put out the flames. Day or night, these temperature surges vary for each woman. Studies show, however, that regular exercise can reduce the frequency and intensity of these internal heat waves. Believe it or not, sweating during exercise is a good remedy. Cardiovascular exercise, such as vigorous walking or swimming, that lasts at least thirty minutes and is performed a minimum of three times a week can work wonders to offset the irregularity of your internal thermometer. Light weight clothing and a fan help, too.

MOOD SWINGS, MEMORY LOSS, & SLEEPLESSNESS - No, it's not a description of a mental illness, though at times it may feel that way. It is this temporary disturbance in your hormone levels (and increasing age - sorry) that contribute to these symptoms. Lately, words drop out of my mouth just as easily as my thoughts drop off my radar screen and my body drops off the bed from tossing and turning. There's no winning here. Again, regular exercise helps regulate moods with the release of feel-good hormones, plus you're more tired at night from the physical exertion. Increased blood flow to the brain and systems of the body is also critical to memory. There are studies that claim regular exercise can reduce our risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. I'd be happy just to remember what I went to the store for.

Relaxation techniques, such as deep, evenly paced breathing, can help manage mood and sleep. Learning stress management strategies is also important. As with exercise, the skills learned must be employed consistently in order to be effective.

THINNING BONES & DECREASED MUSCLE MASS - Gee whiz, I'm getting depressed just writing this. But, again, exercise comes to mind (no memory lapse there). Resistance training using weights or bands causes the muscles to pull on the tendons which then pull on the bone and voila - bone cells start to regenerate. Impact exercise, such as jumping, walking, or running can stimulate bone growth, too. Resistance training also builds muscle, which is the cornerstone of strength and a healthy metabolism. Menopause is not the time to sit in your rocker on the front porch - unless you have just had a vigorous work out session.

WEIGHT GAIN - This woeful song plays repeatedly throughout a woman's life. Now, it's just playing faster. In truth, your metabolism MAY be slowing down if you are not exercising regularly or doing resistance training. Activity and muscle mass are key to stoking your metabolism. The solution hasn't changed; it's just more important than ever. Reviewing your diet is also essential. Your body still needs adequate fuel to burn calories and perform effectively, but your food choices may need some tweaking. There are lots of resources you can consult, but you must be honest with yourself first. Then, implement what you learn and KNOW to be helpful. And do it consistently.

Menopause is a trip - sometimes a very long trip. You can get off at the rest stops, but you have to get back in the car. If you brought a map, you'll be less likely to get lost. But, a bump in the road is still a bump in the road. You'll get there. And when you do, you'll need to continue to take care of that car so you can take it on the next journey.

My seat belt is fastened because my trip isn't over quite yet. I'm putting the car's top down and cruising with a smile on my face (depending on my mood). For my next birthday, I'm going to forget the candles on the cake - the heat only triggers a hot flash. Instead, I'm going to turn up the music, lace up my sneakers, and bounce my way to better bones!

October 03, 2010

DO YOU MIND?

The number of ways we use the word mind in our everyday language is mind-boggling. Being the inquisitive mind that I am, I decided to look in my Encarta dictionary. Besides, I needed a definition for the word mindful. Sure enough, there were ten definitions EACH of the word mind, both as a noun and a verb. The column containing words with the root word mind spilled onto a second page. My mindset was expanding by the minute. I was really paying attention as my finger traced the black print. My eyes watched as individual letters appeared beneath the tip of my gliding index finger. I could smell the musky scent of the dictionary's cardboard cover. The tissue-thin page corners stuck to the pads of my fingers. This seemingly mindless motion of looking up a word was not lost on me. I was present with all senses turned on. The definition of mindful had already found me.

Sounding more like the word "de jour," mindful, or mindfulness, is popping up in conversations and magazine articles with increasing frequency. I was surprised to discover that both the term and its application have origins in Buddhist tradition. As far back as 1845, the language scholars were translating and interpreting the word and practice of mindfulness.

Today's secular applications can be found in every setting and activity, from breathing to supermarket shopping to the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. In a society of one-size-fits-all approaches to life's triumphs and challenges, mindfulness is arguably the undefeated contender.

Wow. That's mind-blowing. Okay, so when applied to exercise and weight management, what's the key? Mindfulness in these two areas makes a profound difference in the effectiveness and long term success of both endeavors. Period. If YOU don't show up and stay 'til curtain call, you might as well stay home. Here's why.

Exercise involves your body as it exists NOW - not the high school version you carry around in your mind's eye (there it is again). Acceptance of your body and all of its imperfections, strengths, and weaknesses is paramount. Go ahead, introduce yourself to YOU and make friends. Only then are you ready to succeed at achieving your exercise goals. Now, during your exercises, feel what muscles you are engaging. If you don't know, ask a professional. Learn what that muscle's function is and then focus on the sensation you feel as it performs for you. If this sounds too New Age or crazy awkward, then ask yourself this question. Would you consider driving a car without being able to feel the accelerator or brake pedal? Not likely. To tune in is to be turned on - the five senses, that is. The next time you perform a dumb bell bicep curl, look at your bicep muscle. Observe and feel the contraction and elongation of the muscle. What does your grip look like on the neck of the dumb bell? Notice how your grip affects your forearm muscles. Understand what function this motion of your arm serves in your life. Imagine trying to lift and lower a grocery bag without flexing and lengthening your bicep muscle.

Weight management - this was a natural process for your body at birth. Then, a disconnect evolved. Numerous factors can contribute to that for each of us, but many of us stopped listening to our body's signals. Remembering how much we just ate or whether we were even hungry when we ate or full when we stopped is a stretch. Again, YOU have to show up - YOU as you are at this moment. Like it or not, a reliable mirror doesn't come with "accept" and "do not accept" buttons. Your body, and thus its reflection, just IS.

Mindfulness demands that you pay attention to what IS during the act of eating. No driving, talking on the phone, watching television, or reading a mystery novel. Distractions disconnect us from US. Most successful losers (weight, that is) - successful in that they have maintained their weight loss - will tell you that minding your body is essential. Long lists of allowed and disallowed foods, meticulously measured portions, and diet logs that rival accounting ledgers don't work without YOU being present. Tuning into the body you have expertly tuned out is the first step to long term weight management success.

Mindfulness - accepting what is, being present without judgment - is as challenging to implement as it is effective. Buddhist teachers affirmed mindfulness as being requisite on the path to liberation and subsequent enlightenment. Applied to exercise and weight management then, imagine the likelihood of success.

So - if you don't mind - show up already!

September 26, 2010

IF THE SHOE FITS...

I remember watching one of Cinderella's mean, ugly stepsisters trying to force her over-sized foot into that delicate, SMALL, glass shoe. She twisted and pushed her foot, but to no avail. Prince or no prince, that foot wasn't going to fit inside that shoe. Cinderella's perfect foot (no hammer toes or bunions, a delicate arch ...) slid right into the glass shoe, and the prince with his happily-ever-after life guarantee was hers for the taking. Well, a proper, comfortable shoe "fit" may not get you a prince, but your feet will definitely function happily-ever-after.

Most of us lack the perfect foot of a cartoon rendering, so what do we look for when shopping for footwear? First, you need to know your anatomy. You need to know your foot shape and design, and that of the shoe you're shopping for - in this case, the athletic shoe. Starting with a good look at your feet, what do you see? A simple test of walking across dry pavement with damp feet lets you examine your footprints. If your footprint looks like the outline of an entire foot, your feet pronate (also known as being flat-footed). When the footprint shows just the toes and ball of the foot, your feet supinate (high arch). If your footprint shows the toes, ball, and edges of the foot, you have neutrality (like Cinderella). Next, look to see if your foot is wide or narrow. Take note of bunions, irregularly bent toes, swollen joints and callouses. These are indicators of current or potential irritation within a shoe.

Once you know your foot's anatomy, it's time to understand how the shoe's anatomy needs to conform to your foot. Here are some shoe anatomy pointers:

SHAPE - the bottom of the shoe can indicate its flexibility. Straight bottoms are usually rigid, whereas curved ones bend more easily. At push-off, your foot should flex between 45 and 55 degrees.

HEEL COUNTER - the rounded, firm material that stabilizes the heel to prevent excessive tilt or slippage - super important for flat feet. It should be padded and notched for the Achilles tendon.

FOREFOOT POSITIONING - this is the material that comes up over the side of the shoe to control movement of the foot from side-to-side. This lateral stability is crucial during activities where your foot may roll outward or inward.

MIDSOLE - between the outer sole and heel, this is the heart of the cushioning system. Shock absorption and arch stability reside here, which is important for all feet, but especially for those with high arches. High arches create rigidity and a less-forgiving foot.


TOE BOX
- this space for your toes should allow the toes to wriggle and move for proper functioning. Additionally, a space of approximately 1/2" should exist between the end of your longest toe and the shoe.

OUTER SOLE AND UPPERS - the sole should offer a combination of rubber and polyurethane material. Outside materials of the upper shoe vary between all-leather and a leather-and-mesh combo. The latter allows for more breathe ability, but is typically less durable.

If you run, your shoes need to be retired after 400-600 miles since the midsole begins to break down. For the walker, shoes should be replaced every 6 months. For normal use, replacement at one year is recommended. If you have two pairs to alternate between, that is ideal. In fact, it allows the mid-sole to assume its original shape between use. Cleaning your shoes by hand is preferable to the roughness of machine washing and drying. And regularly check your shoes' treads for excessive wear and tear.

Remember, if you're in doubt about which sneaker is the best fit for your foot, talk to a professional. Most everyone's feet have been trapped inside of ill-fitting shoes at least once. It's no walk in the park - or should I say, dance at the prince's ball. Poorly made shoes, shoes that are simply on sale or look cool, are rarely bargains in the long run if they're not right for your foot. As for glass slippers - well - they secured Cinderella a future of happiness, even if her feet did ache at the end of the night. In cartoon land, pumpkins turn into vehicles, too ...