Elderly and Barefoot–that’s how I plan to be

See, even Plato was rockin’ the barefoot look

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Erik is the Thoughtstylist™ in this house, but I’m going to step up on the Stylin’ Platform for a change. As regular readers know, Erik is into barefoot running. I barefoot walk, and am working my way into barefoot running.

Our neighborhood is full of long, steep staircases devoid of handrails. I go up and down these on my walks. When I’m in running shoes, I feel insecure on these staircases–I really watch my step, lest I end up sprawled on the bottom like an Aztec sacrifice. No matter what I do, I always feel like I’m about to pitch forward on my face.

Contrast that to doing the stairs barefoot. When I’m barefoot I feel completely safe. On the way down, my toes grab the edge of each stair, automatically. Going up, I’m high on the ball of my feet, and don’t worry about catching a toe and tripping.

This led me to realize, on a visceral level, that when you’re barefoot, you’re very surefooted. Your foot is conforming to the terrain, and the nerves in your foot are sending a constant flow of feedback to your brain. You walk more lightly–not more hesitantly, but with more awareness.

Surefootedness becomes more important to me now that I’m past 40 and staring down the gullet of my elder years. I also have older family members, and I’m sure most of you do. We all know that one of the biggest threat to the elderly are falls. And falls happen because as we get older, and less active, we lose coordination, strength, and balance.

My thoughtstyling, in a nutshell, was that older folks should spend more time barefoot. Being barefoot really wakes up your senses and trains you to be surefooted.

Of course it can be hard for elderly people to care for their feet, so they need to take time to build up callouses that will protect their feet from cuts. That process can happen in a shorter period time, with work, but it’s easier if we’ve been going barefoot all our life…or at least since our 40′s.

No one may agree with me, but I for one plan to be a barefooted elder. And I’m going to start leaning on my mother about it, too.

I was pleased to find my thoughstyling backed up in this book Erik bought recently. It’s called Barefoot Running, and has a special section on transitioning to barefoot for the elderly and less mobile. The author makes the same arguments that I am here, just somewhat more articulately. Overall it’s a really good book on the basic mechanics of barefooting, how to build up callouses, how to approach weather and different terrains, etc. It also has some not so valuable stuff on diet and stretching and spirituality, as if it’s trying to be a book about all things–but for the basic barefoot stuff, it’s great.

Video on Barefoot Running

This video, featuring Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman, is one of things that convinced me to take up barefoot running. I’m now up to 2.5 miles three days a week and I’ve been running barefoot for most of 2010 with no injuries. Now, off to get to get that gazelle for dinner . . .

Barefoot Running Update

I’ve been running barefoot three times a week for six months with no relapse of the knee or heel pain I used to suffer from when I ran in shoes. I have stubbornly refused to spend any money for minimal footwear (largely because I’m a cheap bastard), but I really don’t feel like I need to. I’ve run all of my barefoot miles on a decomposed granite path and have not had a single injury of any kind, not even a scratch. Danny Dreyer’s book ChiRunning helped correct some form issues. Some things I’ve figured out:

1. Running barefoot gives you instant feedback, but bad form from a lifetime wearing shoes can still pose a problem. I don’t think that feedback would have been as effective had I worn minimal shoes.

2. The guy who runs the anti-barefoot running website that’s the first hit in Google when you search “barefoot running” is a podiatrist who sells . . . shoes.

3. You have to transition slowly. I’ve used the following schedule running three days a week and lifting weights and using my bike for errands on the other days. I think this schedule could be stretched out even further.

Week 1-2: (run 1 minute walk 2 minutes) x 4
Week 3-4: (run 2 minutes walk 2 minutes) x 3
Week 5-6: (run 2 minutes walk 1 minute) x 4
Week 7-8: (run 3 minutes walk 1 minute) x 4
Week 9-10: (run 4 minutes walk 2 minutes) x 4
Week 11-12: (run 4 minutes walk 1 minute) x 6
Week 13-14: (run 5 minutes walk 1 minute) x 6 
Week 15 run 1 mile
. . . etc., adding 10% more distance per week until the goal of 5k three times a week is reached.

4. Running barefoot gives a you a direct contact with Mother Earth (and Mother Concrete) and that’s kinda cool.

Barefoot running is one of those “ah-ha” ideas. It makes you wonder what other sacred cows can be taken “barefoot.” How about that expensive college education, for instance?

See our earlier post on barefoot running, “No Shoes, No problem.”

We like this: Shovelgloving

cute cats shamelessly stolen from Shovelglove homepage

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Just a note to point you to a site rec’d by one of our commenters in our last post. It’s for a DIY exercise system based on swinging a sledgehammer around: http://www.shovelglove.com.

Swinging around a padded sledgehammer, that is, like the one the cats are inspecting above. (Though frankly I’m not too convinced that a sweater will do much to protect anything from a sledgehammer. Okay, maybe it will protect the floor from accidental scratches, but I think those cats better not be lulled into complacency by its fuzzy, friendly appearance.)

Generally I don’t like “exercise” as a concept. I avoid gyms the way others might avoid leper colonies or malls during the holiday season, because it seems inherently ridiculous to travel to a climate-controleld machine-space and pay to expend energy toward no particular purpose. Yeah, I know, the idea is that exercise makes you healthy, but isn’t life supposed to be full of free exercise? When did it become an isolated activity?

Anyhoo, this shovelgloving business (shugging, I think they call it) is, admittedly, still a bit on the abstract side for me, meaning the labor doesn’t produce anything, but heck, I’m an urbanite. My entire life is rather abstract.  I lack wood to chop, butter to churn, rails to drive &etc. — at least on a day to day basis.

On the good side, it’s free (as long as you have a sledgehammer–and if you don’t, you should–very handy things, sledgehammers), you can do it at home, it at least references useful body motions, and it looks like lots of goofy fun. It will make more sense when you go see it.

That one shovelglove page, minimal at first glance, leads to a whole world of videos and other time sucks, so be careful if you’re trying to get anything done. But speaking of procrastination, check out the author’s main page, Everyday Systems. The shovelglove is not his only idea. He also has a fiendishly simple diet plan and lots of other funny and commonsensical ideas to explore.

And yes, before any of you say it, it is potentially quite dangerous to swing a sledgehammer around. So if you try it, be sure not to knock yourself or your loved ones in the head. And start slow and move thoughtfully and with good posture to protect your back from injury.

I’m going to try it, and I’ll let you know how it goes. Unless I brain myself.

A New Fitness Craze: The Kayak Balance Stool

Today I canceled my YMCA membership and started to put together my own home gym. Bored with the usual gym accouterments, I’ve set out to build some fitness equipment on my own starting with a kayak balance stool.

I discovered this idea in Christopher Cunningham’s book Building the Greenland Kayak. To make your kayak balance stool, find a piece of scrap wood. I used a 2 x 8 and cut it to fit my ass to toe dimensions. Cut two end boards, each a foot long. Attach the end boards to the sittin’ board with some bolts or sturdy screws. The deeper the curve on the bottom of the end boards, the more tippy it gets. Cunningham suggests a depth of 1 1/2 inches to start. I’d suggest making that curve a bit on the “pointy” side, as any flatness will lead to a lack of tippitude.

Why do this? I’ve been taking a few kayak lessons lately which have showcased my inflexible hamstrings. Mrs. Homegrown describes my flexibility as that of a ginger bread man and my swimming as being like, “throwing a 2 by 4 in the water.” I’m hoping spending a few minutes a day on the kayak simulator will improve flexibility and strengthen core muscles that keep you steady in the water while kayaking. I’ll note my bad form in the animation above. I’m guessing it’s better to use your core to stabilize, rather than moving your legs.

According to Cunningham Inuit children in Greenland got a meaty bone to nibble on while they practiced on one of these things. I’m going to skip the bone for some reading material and slowly increase my time on the board.

For a fancy kayak balance board tip yourself over here.

Note from Mrs. Homestead:

Came home last night to find Erik had made this highly attractive new toy on the porch. I was actually somewhat intrigued, because it looks like it could be used to build core strength whilst reading cheap novels. Top that, pilades!

A few observations from first use. First, only Skinny-Butt Erik could seat himself comfortably on an 8″ wide plank. I’m discomforted by the issue of…um…overhang. Most folks would be well-advised to make the plank more along the the lines of 10 -12″.  12″ boards are hard to find, but the seat could be made of a 3 2×4″s. 

Beyond that, I also found the 1 1/2″ rise a little too easy to master. But we’ve learned you can make it harder by putting your feet flat on the board, thus changing your center of gravity.  Nonetheless, we’ll probably be making the curve steeper very soon.

Barefoot Running Update

ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free RunningWhile I was running last week a fellow barefoot runner stopped me to tell me that he thought that I was still heel striking, an error in form that can cause a long list of injuries. I took out a video camera the next day and videotaped myself running. He was right. As it turns out, simply ditching shoes is not enough to unlearn a lifetime’s worth of bad habits.

I turned back to a book by Danny Dreyer, ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running. that was recommended to me when I first went down the barefoot path. Dreyer is a friend of barefoot running guru Ken Bob Saxton, though the book is not about running sans footwear. Instead it covers form, emphasizing a mid-foot strike that minimizes shock to knees and heel.

I’ve been enjoying the audio version of this book, ChiRunning: A Training Program for Effortless, Injury-Free Running, that I checked out from the library. I’ve found it handier than the text since I’ve it’s easier to listen to the exercises rather do them while trying to hold a book.

See my original post for more info on barefoot running. “No Shoes, No Problem.” Funny thing is, even heel striking without shoes, while not good, was still better than heel striking with shoes. I’ve had absolutely no running related pains since I started barefoot running several months ago even with my bad form.

I realize that many of you are not runners, but I bring up this subject on this home economics related blog since I think it begs the question, “what other products in our lives are unnecessary and detrimental?” Cleaning products? Pharmaceuticals? If this blog post by Brooks shoe CEO Jim Weber is any indication, the folks with the money are a bit scared at the thought that we might all wake up some day to the realization that we don’t need their products. Mahatma Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Barefoot Running: No Shoes, No Problem

Beekeeper Kirk Anderson has a simple message, lets bees be bees. Let them form their own comb, raise their own queens and generally go about doing what they want to do. In short, work with nature rather than try to control her. “Duh,” one might say, but Kirk’s beekeeping method just so happens to run counter to a hundred years of conventional beekeeping practices and “expert” advice. Kirk calls his method “backwards beekeeping” after Charles Martin Simon’s eloquent essay, “Principles of Beekeeping Backwards.” Simon’s essay is essential reading, in my opinion, even if you have no interest in bees. It gets you thinking about what other things the so-called experts might be wrong about.

How about shoes for instance?

I was addicted to running throughout my 30s until a series of injuries in recent years, arthritis in the knees and plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation of connective tissue on the bottom of the foot, effectively ended my happy morning runs. In the case of plantar fasciitis the doctors and physical therapists I consulted all said the same thing, that I should wear shoes with arch supports at all times, even around the house. A routine of stretching, incessant shoe wearing and abstaining from running beat back the pain for a year or so. But then it returned for no good reason.

Time to take those feet “backwards”

All the interventions of conventional beekeepers, the pre-built comb and endless treatments, have produced weak bees. It may seem crazy, but I began to see an analogy to our feet. We ain’t born with shoes on, after all. So why do we think we need to improve on nature’s design? Could it be that shoes, by atrophying our muscles, cause plantar fasciitis? Could the ever more massive cushioning of running shoes cause biomechanical changes that damage knees? For several years I’d been fascinated with barefoot running, but was always too chicken to try it. Two videos, done as part of a research project on barefoot running at Harvard, convinced me.

The first shows a runner in shoes with a graph of the impact forces. When you run in shoes you tend to slam down your heel first. Note the spike in the graph indicating the force of this heel impact::

When you run barefoot you tend to strike with the ball of the foot first instead of the heel, which eliminates that initial impact spike:

Desperate and with nothing to lose, I decided to VERY slowly adjust to not wearing shoes. I gradually wore them less and less around the house. I began to feel a noticeable difference immediately. My feet felt stronger. In the past few weeks I’ve begun to carefully transition to running barefoot. I’m using a program adapted from a book, Run Less, Run Faster:  minus all the advice about shoes: I only run on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, resting on all other days.

Week 1: (run 1 minute walk 2 minutes) x 4
Week 2: (run 2 minutes walk 2 minutes) x 3
Week 3: (run 2 minutes walk 1 minute) x 4
Week 4: (run 3 minutes walk 1 minute) x 4
Week 5: (run 4 minutes walk 2 minutes) x 4 
Week 6: (run 4 minutes walk 1 minute) x 6
Week 7: (run 5 minutes walk 1 minute) x 6  
Week 8 run one mile
Week 9: run 1.5 miles
Week 10: run 2 miles
Week 11: run 2.5 miles
Week 12: run 3.1 miles

While I’m fairly certain I’ll have setbacks, I’m hoping this conservative program will minimize my chances of injury and get me back to running modest distances. So far is seems to be working. I just have to contain my enthusiasm for being free of shoes and keep myself from running too much, too soon. Barefoot running really is liberating. It feels like being a kid again.


Everything we’ve been told is wrong

Dr C Richards, of the University of Newcastle in an article, “Is your prescription of distance running shoes evidence based?” discovered that there is not a single peer reviewed study proving the need for running shoes. He issued a challenge to shoe makers,

“Is any running-shoe company prepared to claim that wearing their distance running shoes will decrease your risk of suffering musculoskeletal running injuries? Is any shoe manufacturer prepared to claim that wearing their running shoes will improve your distance running performance? If you are prepared to make these claims, where is your peer-reviewed data to back it up?” 

He was met with a resounding silence.

That is, until Nike came out with the “Free,” a shoe that simulates barefoot running. In other words, caught with absolutely no evidence to justify their existence, Nike attempted to sell a shoe that’s not a shoe. Now that’s marketing in action! There’s also the Vibram Five Fingers, an odd looking slipper-type non-shoe. While the Vibram has it’s adherents, especially when it comes to preventing cuts from sharp objects, I feel that one of the points of running or walking barefoot is that it forces you to be more careful about the way you put your feet down.

A paper in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, “Hazard of deceptive advertising of athletic footwear” attempted to explain why wearers of expensive shoes have a 123% greater injury rate than wearers of inexpensive shoes. They showed,

“(1) deceptive advertising of protective devices may represent a public health hazard and may have to be eliminated presumably through regulation; (2) a tendency in humans to be less cautious when using new devices of unknown benefit because of overly positive attitudes associated with new technology and novel devices.”

The point about “overly positive attitudes associated with new technology” is a lesson well worth remembering, it seems to me. I could go on and on. I think this poetic video of a young man from Kenya, who has never worn shoes in his life, says it all:

As Kirk Anderson says, “Backwards is the new forwards.” It ain’t about nostalgia for some mythic past, the point is we’re actually going forwards here by working with nature rather than arrogantly trying to control her. And don’t worry dear readers, my hair won’t get “long and shaggy” and I’ll keep the leather boots for beekeeping duties, but you can bet I’ve bought my last pair of $100 running shoes.

For more information on barefoot running see http://therunningbarefoot.com/

Far Side of the Stairs

The folks over at SoapboxLA have tossed down the stair climbing gauntlet with their participation in this weekend’s alley cat race and fundraiser for injured bike messenger Orlando Godoy. The race, entitled “Thus Climbed Zarathustra” in honor of Nietzsche’s birthday involved miles of racing around Echo Park and Silver Lake interspersed with climbs of the region’s many horrendous staircases. SurviveLA had important business to attend to and was not able to attend, though even if we had been free the idea of combining “alley-cat” with our “middle-age” we feared might lead to a trip to the “emergency-room”. But the brave folks at SoapboxLA were clearly up to the challenge and took first place in the categories of non-crocodile wrestling Australian and fiery high-horse Hungarian.

But seriously, part of this urban homesteading thing is about whipping our communities into shape and LA needs a serious thrashing, and I don’t mean the sort delivered by the ladies in the back of the LA Weekly. We need to make LA a walkable, bike-able and livable place just like the folks in the other great cities of the world have done. Why is it that LA suffers from low self-esteem and low expectations? Why is it that when our downtown skyline appears in a movie, the image is shorthand for crime infested ghetto hell-hole? Why is it that when you point out the pedestrian and cycling amenities of cities like Portland and San Francisco the immediate response is, “that will never work in LA”?

We urge all revolutionaries out there to join with SoapboxLA to call our city officials on their complacency and make this city a great place to live. SoapboxLA had an important victory in helping insure bicycle and pedestrian access to the Griffith Observatory and they are also fighting for a safer bike lanes on the soon to be constructed Santa Monica Boulevard Transit Parkway. Brothers and sisters, it’s time to saddle up the high-horses and ride off with the Soapboxers!

Shamelessly Tooting Our Own Horn

Unfortunately for the sedentary out there this new urban homesteading lifestyle involves a fair amount of physical fitness. We’ve found that the best way to keep up with SurviveLA’s strenuous fitness requirements is to have a goal such as a race, or a particularly difficult hike. This is why we’ve been obsessed over the years with the Ketchum Downtown YMCA’s oddball Stair Climb to the Top which involves a heart-pounding and vomit-inducing journey up 75 floors via the stairwell of the US Bank Tower, the tallest building west of the Mississippi.

We’re proud to announce that today one of the SurviveLA clan took second place in the slightly-over-the-hill division with a time of 12:09 (missing the gold by two seconds). Our reward is the ugly medal you see here, the fact that the race proceeds benefited the community programs of the YMCA, and the knowledge that should the shit hit the fan in downtown LA, we can beat the crowds to the heliport.

SurviveLA was too obsessed with winning to document the journey, but the enterprising folks at Metroblogging LA managed to haul a video camera up the stuffy staircase.

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