How Foot Strength Impacts Longevity and 3 Exercises

by Brian Sabin
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How Foot Strength Impacts Longevity and 3 Exercises

Right now you aren’t running as fast as you could, standing as tall as you should or likely to live as long as you would if you paid more attention to your feet.

Does that sound like an exaggeration? Consider this: The medical and fitness communities have known for a while that your grip is a reliable indicator of longevity. But an emerging field of research indicates the strength of your feet might be an even better measuring stick for your health.

For example, a team of Japanese researchers examined the toe-flexor strength of 1,400-plus men across various age groups. (Toe flexors are muscles like the abductor hallucis, which lets you lift and wiggle your big toe.) The scientists found they could tell how well people took care of themselves based on the test results. The data accurately predicted a person’s age, sleep, exercise and drinking habits. They also observed that foot strength started declining at an earlier age than grip strength — and fell off more dramatically than grip strength over time.

That’s bad news when you consider that the muscles in your feet are very much involved with balance control, and that as you get older, falls are a common cause of death. But we’re not just talking about far away, future problems here. Weak feet and ankles may be holding back your athletic performance right now.  

“Foot and ankle strength crosses over into everything you do,” says Dr. Joel Seedman, who trains and coaches high-level athletes and regular Joes alike outside of Atlanta, Georgia. “Without proper foot and ankle activation, it’s impossible to have ideal mechanics on any lower-body movement.” Seedman describes having weak feet and ankles as “a massive energy leak.” If you’re a runner, that means you’re losing force you could use to propel you forward. “It slows you down,” Seedman says.

The good news? You can be on the road to recovery starting right now. Just add these three exercises from Seedman to your repertoire. They require no equipment and can be performed anywhere, at any time. But adding them at the beginning of workouts fires up not only your feet and ankles, but your entire lower body.


“It’s impossible to get full recruitment of the posterior chain without proper foot and ankle activation,” Seedman says. “Once you start firing the feet and ankles, most people start to feel a huge burn in their posterior chain, because it starts sending better neural signaling all the way up. It even starts affecting your posture, upper body and neck.”


This one is as basic as it sounds: Just lift one leg off the ground and balance on the other. You should find that within a short time the muscles in your butt and along the back of your legs have to fire to help keep you upright.

No matter whether you’re a marathoner or a hard-core CrossFitter, you can benefit from this move. “If I had to throw one exercise out there that’s a cure-all for everyone, this would be it,” Seedman says.

If you’re a strength and power athlete, load the exercise by holding a weight for 15–20 seconds. Or if you’re a runner, do these with your bodyweight or just a light weight and hold for 1–2 minutes per side.


Performing ankle push-outs is simple. You just do three things: Stand tall; press your big toes into the ground and push your ankles laterally outward. “I’ve seen this do wonders for my clients,” Seedman says. “Often, they can notice the difference within a few days — especially if they’re religious about doing it multiple times per day.”


This exercise is essentially the opposite of a calf raise. While calf raises have you go up onto your toes to work the backside of your lower legs, in toe raises you keep your feet flat on the ground, lift your toes as high as you can, and spread them as wide as you can.

“It strengthens the muscles around both sides of the shins — the peroneals and tibialis anterior — which are basically toe flexors,” Seedman says. “The ability to dorsiflex, or pull your toes back toward your shins, is a critical aspect of foot and ankle function. I see even high-level athletes struggle with this big time.”

Try it and you’ll find the front of your shins might burn faster than you think. You can take the exercise a step further by adding a calf raise and performing the move with weight.


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  • Debbie

    Interesting. There’s something weird going on with my ankles right now. I’ve got ugly chronic swelling in a certain part on the outside of my ankles. I’m wondering if it’s Peroneal Tendonitis. I don’t know if it’s related to my feet, knees, posture, gait, or what. I’ve gone to my knee ortho and he’s requested an MRI. So far, he hasn’t given me much feedback.

    I do the third exercise in the pool all the time. Part of my rehab from my knee surgery. I also do calf raises in the pool too, again part of my PT from after knee surgery. But I’m not sure how to do the second exercise. Anyone have a better explanation? A video would be great! Good to show form anyway.

    • Jerome Barry

      The ankle push-out involves standing upright, then keeping your great toe in contact with the same spot on the floor and twisting your legs. Imagine your two feet as equal sides of an isosceles triangle, with the base of the triangle being a line drawn between your two heels. the work of doing this is from the muscles in the lower leg and ankle area.

      • Debbie

        Bringing your heels in towards each other? Thnx!

  • Stewart Proper

    Great points and even doing the simple things like drying your feet one by one standing on one leg will improve balance and coordination. No more sitting to put on shoes! Try brushing teeth with the non dominant hand and standing on one leg! Every manoeuvre like these will aid in maintaining balance, mobility and flexibility and can easily be incorporated into day to day activities. And remember – always take the stairs over the elevator any day!

  • Dave Gomes

    These are great ideas. I remember doing toe curls while pulling a towel on the ground while rehabbing a torn ankle ligament. It was so hard at first, even with the uninjured side. Until then, i never realized how important foot strength was to overall fitness.

  • Jon

    This article overstates the science, the quoted study only claims correlation not causation, just because people with stronger feet tend to live longer doesn’t mean that stronger feet causes people to live longer. More than likely they have a common cause, healthier people tend to have stronger feet and live longer. In other words, stronger feet is more likely a side effect of being healthy than a cause of being healthy.

  • Le Far-West

    layman’s terms. Obviously, you didn’t learn about English terminology! Look up ‘lament’.

    • sodagrrl

      You’ve obviously never heard of autocorrect. Look it up before being snotty.

      • Le Far-West

        Ugh!!!!!!! Totally millennial, blame your ignorance and laziness on a piece of software. It’s called proof reading, unless you take no pride in what you write of course!