It’s really no big secret that regular exercise is essential for your physical health. Something that is perhaps not as well-known—or at least gets overlooked often—is the fact that exercise can make a huge, positive impact on the health of your feet.
That’s really important, particularly because we all need our feet to get us where we want to go. (Except, naturally, for those who rely on wheelchairs or other assistive devices to get around.)
If you think about the things you love doing in life, there’s a strong possibility you would have a difficult time doing them without your feet, especially if you’re used to always having your lower limbs available.
Even if you don’t enjoy athletic activities—not everyone does, of course—you still have to walk places and operate the gas and brake pedals in your car!
So, if you want to have choices in life and be able to do the things you enjoy, you need to take care of your feet – and being physically active on a regular basis plays a major role in this.
There are many different kinds of exercises you can choose, but running tends to be a great choice. After all, the human body is basically made to run. Plus, this activity was instrumental in our early survival.
Sone experts in the anthropological community believe that our endurance with long-distance running better enabled our ancestors to hunt animals that might have been faster in short distances, but needed to stop and rest.
Regardless as to the historical origins of humans and running—since it’s not often we have to chase after dinner nowadays—this form of exercise provides an array of benefits, such as weight loss, improved circulation, better muscle efficiency, and increased bone health.
Sure, those kinds of benefits are great for the entire body, but let’s take a moment to look at how they can affect feet (in a good way!):
- Weight loss – You might not be aware of this, but the physical force on a foot that lands while taking a step when you walk is equal to anywhere between one-and-a-half and two times your bodyweight. Even though feet are naturally equipped to be able to reasonably handle the force loads, maintaining a healthy weight means they face less pressure and strain – and this means less injury risk!
- Improved circulation – There is no part of your body farther from your heart than your feet. As such, blood already has a long trip to reach the lower limbs. Running improves circulation, which ensures the tissues in your feet receive the nutrients and oxygen they need to be in peak condition.
- Stronger muscles – When you strengthen muscles in your lower legs and feet, the tissues are able to better absorb the shock from impact. By reducing the amount of shock absorbed by bones, you lower your risk of stress fractures.
- Increased bone health – We aren’t aware of this happening, but bones are in a constant process of replenishing fatigued cells. As long as you aren’t overtraining, a smart running program can help with this.
Your feet give you options in life, so you want to keep them strong, and running is one way to do this.
Now, regardless as to whether you are just getting started or have been running for many years, there’s something you absolutely need to know when you run – where you’re going!
For those who enjoy running on tracks (or are going to start doing so), this is pretty simple. After all, you just need to keep turning left around the oval-shaped track, and then make sure you keep a tally of how many laps you run.
There are a greater number of runners, however, who appreciate the freedom of being able to run different places and experience new scenery along the way. If this sounds like you—or you’re a new runner and think you’d rather take this approach—we’ve compiled a list of the top running trails in Nassau County (and a couple of bonus trails in nearby counties!), which includes:
- Oyster Bay. Regarded by some as one of the most beautiful areas on Long Island—and that’s saying a lot—you might want to consider spending some time training at Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Oyster Bay. This is an especially great option if you want to incorporate some hill work into your running program. (Sagamore Hill can be challenging and give you a good workout, but without being overly difficult.) If you enjoy running around sundown, don’t miss out on the incredible view of Oyster Bay harbor from Cove Neck Road!
- Connequot River State Park. Located off Sunrise Highway in Oakdale-Bohemia, this is a fairly popular area for running. The park itself is quite scenic and has four marked trails, which vary in distance from one mile all the way up to almost eight-and-a-half miles. There are other, non-marked trails as well, so you have plenty of options for training. If you prefer to run solo, that’s certainly an option, but you can also find several running groups who meet at the park on weekends (if you’re interested in running with others).
- SUNY Old Westbury Campus. An increasingly-popular choice among local runners, running the entire campus (and each entrance) provides a robust 9.2-mile workout. In spite of newfound popularity, there is still plenty of opportunity to find yourself alone with no distractions, people, or traffic. For those of you currently training for a marathon, these particular running grounds parallel Oyster Bay as being a great way to get in some hill work.
- Bethpage Bike Path. This long, flat path starts at Bethpage State Park and extends into Massapequa. Depending on where you start, you can make this a 15-mile run by starting at Merrick Road and going to the end of the park and back. Of course, there are other points for starting and ending, so you can shorten the run if you’re a new runner or just want a shorter workout. One of the best parts of this option is the preserve, where you can find ponds and streams that are home to, and visited by, local wildlife.
- Shoreham/Wading River. Running on hard surfaces can be taxing on the joints, so you may want to give them a bit of relief by taking to the trails behind the Shoreham-Wading River High School. There is a mixture of almost beach-like sand and soft pine needles covering the wide, clear trails – and runners can find this kind of surface to be especially kind on the knees. As if that isn’t reason enough, you can also enjoy fantastic scenery (ponds, farmland, and so much natural beauty) and train for extended periods without running the same train twice.
- Sunken Meadow State Park. Enjoy cross-country running? Well, then Sunken Meadow State Park is the place on Long Island for you! There are several running courses, which range from one-and-a-half miles all the way up to 10k, and opportunities for those who like to cross-train (which is a smart way to reduce your risk of overuse injuries like stress fractures and Achilles tendinitis). On the cross-training front, the Long Island sound allows you to get some swimming in and you can take advantage of either the road or mountain bike trails for an outstanding cycling workout. (Clearly, Sunken Meadow is awesome for anyone training to compete in a triathlon.) For the pure runners out there, you can find both flat and hilly courses at this park. Either way, one thing you may want to keep in mind is the fact there’s a park admission fee (unless you purchase the annual state park passport pass).
- Hempstead Lake State Park. Some runners are dedicated solely to their craft and will log their miles without stopping. If you want to mix up your training a bit, you can take advantage of the two-and-a-half mile exercise path in this local park. As is the case on some paths, there are stations along the way featuring equipment and suggested exercises. This is a great way to incorporate some resistance training into your overall workout program, and especially if going to the gym isn’t your cup of tea.
- Eisenhower Park. You can trust that this particular location has the proverbial “stamp of approval” from the Long Island Road Runners Club – the organization hosts most of their races there on Sunday mornings! At present, there are two trails marked with white and red arrows, but there used to be three other colors. The different colors indicated loops of varying distances (with the current white arrow course being a one-mile loop and the red one being three miles). The yellow, blue, and green arrows were blacked out by the county because part of each went outside the park, and this was apparently an insurance concern of some kind. In spite of this, you can still run courses and get in an incredible workout at this beautiful park.
- Blydenburgh County Park. Depending on your situation, you might enjoy heading out for your runs with a canine companion or two. If this describes you, Blydenburgh County Park could be your newfound training grounds. The park has a nice five-and-a-half mile trail that is usually quiet—although, you will often find other runners, walkers, and some horseback riders—and provides some awesome scenery from its lovely streams. Now, if you go between Memorial and Labor Days on weekends or holidays, you should expect to pay a parking fee (otherwise, parking is free).
- South Haven County Park. If you want some variety in potential running surfaces (sand, packed dirt, cushiony pine needles), South Haven County Park is right for you. The park contains countless miles of twisting trails and is generally pretty quiet. In the event you are training for a competitive 5k, the main trail—starting at the northeast corner of the parking lot and heading north (through the gate to the high-power lines), and then back—is almost exactly that distance, which is nice for giving you an idea as to what to expect from your race.
Of course, a major appeal of running is the fact that you can create a running trail pretty much wherever you want. No matter if you want to run through neighborhoods or more natural environments – you can blaze your own trail.
When you do, it’s important to make sure you have a proper pair of running shoes.
There might not be much equipment entailed with this type of exercise, but a quality pair of running footwear is absolutely essential. This means having shoes that offer sufficient cushioning, are durable, and fit properly (not too tight, not too loose). Even better is to make sure they work with your natural pronation pattern.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term—and many non-runners (and non-podiatrists!) are—it refers to a natural rolling motion your feet go through during the ground portion of every step. Too much rolling (overpronation) can lead to problems, and so too does insufficient rolling (supination).
Running shoe manufacturers are aware of this, so they create different models to accommodate different pronation patterns.
Not sure which kind you have? Check out the bottoms of your existing footwear. If you see excessive wear on the inner edge, you likely overpronate. Too much wear on the outside typically indicates supination.
Even better, though, is to come in for a professional gait analysis here at Foot Specialists of Long Island. While you’re here, we can check for any underlying issues that could lead to big problems—and lots of pain—if they aren’t addressed. (Then, of course, we’ll create a plan to take care of them for you!)
One possible measure we might take to keep your feet healthy and safe is to prescribe a pair of custom orthotics. These versatile medical devices can resolve foot problems – but they also sometimes provide relief for knee, hip, and back pain (since adjustment in foot positioning can lead to better body alignment).
We hope you are able to stay safe when running, but in the event you do sustain any foot or ankle injury, be sure to come see us for professional care and treatment. Doing so is the best possible way to put the pain behind you so you can get back to your running program in the shortest amount of time!