A podiatrist’s guide to winter walking in the town and country

Walking is a wonderful exercise, even in the depths of winter. It’s especially good in the New Forest in the autumn with the leaves changing colour and falling, incredible fungi, and the pigs foraging. Walks alongside the river and coast offer sightings of wading birds and wildfowl. We also have fabulous towns and cities steeped in history and full of fascinating architecture – and don’t forget the festive markets and events.

The NHS describes walking as ‘simple, free and one of the easiest ways to get more active, lose weight and become healthier.’ Walking outdoors has also been recognised as having a positive effect on our mental health and well-being. Earlier this year, research led by the University of Cambridge found that just 11 minutes of brisk walking a day could ‘lower the risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke and a number of cancers.’

Of course, walking in the autumn and winter months puts extra strain on our feet as they carry us through different terrains and conditions. So, we asked our podiatrist, Paul Gray, what we could do to support our feet.

Wear shoes suitable for the terrain

For urban walking in local towns and cities – Lymington, Christchurch, Ringwood, Southampton, Salisbury, Winchester, for example, you should choose trainers with laces. This will give you a stable base and broad contact area with the ground.

For the New Forest and other rural areas, choose walking shoes or boots. The terrain here can be uneven, with deep ruts in narrow tracks and paths, slippery, grassy, muddy, icy, hard and frozen. There may be brambles, low branches and obstacles to climb over, such as wooden stiles, and to cross, such as boardwalks. You may be walking alongside rivers and streams or stony or sandy coastlines. In these conditions, walking boots give you ankle support, grip and stability, as well as being waterproof and breathable.

Buying new walking shoes and boots

The best time of day to go shoe shopping is the afternoon or early evening. This is because your feet can expand by up to half a size throughout the day.

Make sure you wear your walking shoes or boot socks when you try on new walking shoes so that you get the right width and depth. Comfort and a good fit are essential for happy walking feet.

You should try not just different sizes but a variety of styles and brands, too.

Having more than one pair of walking shoes or boots is a good idea. You should aim to have different walking shoes for the types of terrain you’re likely to cover. And, having a spare pair while your favourites are drying out means you will always be ready for a good walk.

Looking after your walking shoes

Good walking shoes are an investment, and it’s important to look after your investment.

After a walk, brush off or wipe away any dirt and allow it to dry naturally before putting away. If shoes or boots are particularly wet, stuffing them with newspaper can help to keep their shape while they dry out. Clean with manufacturer-recommended cleaning products regularly and reapply water-proofer as required.

Check for wear and tear on the soles, as this is a sign that your shoes may need replacing.

Clothing and accessories

Take special care when choosing socks.

Good footwear is more than just shoes or boots. Your sock choice is important, too.

You may love cotton socks, but they are not the best choice when walking long distances. You want socks that keep moisture away from the skin, such as wool or silk. There are also many synthetic materials that have been specially designed for added comfort and dryness when walking.

It’s just as important that your socks fit well for your comfort and to avoid blisters. So, choose the right size and make sure that they will stay in place on the foot, fitting well around the toes and heel. Many shoe and boot manufacturers make socks to be worn with their shoes. You could also try double-thickness or dual-layer socks.

Leg gaiters are another good investment to help keep ankles and legs dry and warm in cold, wet weather.

Learning from our Nordic cousins, you could also make use of walking poles to help prevent falls. Poles are particularly beneficial for hilly terrain to relieve pressure on the limbs and joints. This is especially useful to those who have arthritis in the knee or hip joints when going downhill.

Keep your feet fit for walking

Podiatrists look after common foot complaints, such as fungal nail infections, corns and hard skin. Regular care can give feet a whole new lease of life and make them feel fantastic, making long walks a joy rather than a pain.

Should the terrain cause postural or muscular problems, our chiropractors and massage therapists are here to help.

To book a podiatry appointment, call Paul directly on 07857 137732.

For appointments with chiropractors Charlotte, Fiona and Colin, and massage therapist Hannah, Book Online or call 01590 679560. For acupuncture appointments, call Amanda directly on 07876 343 821.