09/17/2014 06:59 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2014

What's Good For Your Feet Is Good For Your Health

An avid exerciser, I love nothing more than an hour of good old-fashioned step aerobics. I say "old-fashioned" because obviously step isn't now what it was back in the 80s in terms of cutting-edge exercise. However, one of my favorite classes at my gym, highly popular among the 50-plus set, is a mentally if not physically challenging double-step routine, choreographed by a creative and talented instructor. Not only do I love this class, and the friendship and support it provides (given many of us have been doing this class for over a decade) but I am also a huge fan of the Les Mills program called Body Step.

Unfortunately, my passion for step finally caught up with my 50-plus foot joints, and I am on a temporary hiatus while I wait for my aching heel to heal. I'm also being forced to reevaluate my choice of shoe wear. No longer can I throw on a pair of no-support $5.00 Old Navy flats (to which I am addicted), nor can I even wear their upscale counterparts made out of leather but almost equally flimsy. Instead, I'm making the transition to the "comfort" category on the Zappos website, while I adjust to this new shoe identity.

Throughout this process, I refuse to feel sorry for myself because I know there are plenty of people with far more serious joint problems than my achy heel. In fact, I consider myself quite lucky to have held out for so long. Part of the reason, I think, is that I've managed to avoid the magnetic pull that so many women feel toward the sky-high stilettos made so popular by Carrie Bradshaw's character in Sex and the City. Considered by some women to represent the ultimate expression of their femininity, these modern forms of Inquisition-like torture are absolutely lethal to the health of your bones and joints.

Several years ago, I wrote about the problems that "shoe fashion victims" encounter. In transition to my own new role as wearer of comfort shoes, I thought it would be useful to share with others the importance of maintaining foot health in order to maintain overall physical and mental health.

There is ample research on the links between foot wear and arthritis; the most relevant is a 2005 study by Kerrigan et al (see below). After comparing walking patterns of young and older women in shoes with a mere 1.5 inch heel, the authors concluded that the torque on the knee flexors was significant enough to increase women's risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knee.

Not only do women increase their risk of progressive joint disease by wearing high heels, they also increase their risk of falling. Videos of falling fashion models often go viral. There's nothing even remotely funny about a woman of any age, but especially 50+, to fall and place herself at risk of bone fractures. Falls are a significant source of disability in older adults, and may begin a precipitous decline in health resulting in premature mortality, as reported by the CDC.

As older women, we should find it easier, not harder, to resist fashion trends in favor of our health. However, because women are pressured to remain youthful-looking in appearance, many eschew the sensible shoes associated with previous generations. If you're seeking to look young, your best bet is to feel young. The "spring" may not be in your age, but it will be in your step.

Kerrigan, D.C., Johansson, J.L., Bryant, M.G., Boxer, J.A., Della Croce, U., & Riley, P.O. (2005). Moderate-heeled shoes and knee joint torques relevant to the development and progression of knee osteoarthritis. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2005 May;86(5):871-5.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

8 Ways Baby Boomers Are Transforming The Health Care System