Cardiovascular fitness exercises are obviously an important part of overall health and wellbeing for all individuals. Regular cardio helps you manage your weight, improve your blood sugar control, get more oxygen and nutrients to your legs, even get better sleep—all of which can have profoundly positive effects on the course of your neuropathy.
The problem is that many of the types of exercise associated with cardio—running, jump rope, burpees, sports like basketball or tennis, etc.—fall into the category of high-impact. In other words, they place heavy demands on your feet, ankles, and joints. If your lower limbs have been weakened by neuropathy, those demands may be too severe to perform safely.
But there are many alternative cardio exercises that pose much less risk your feet. They include:
- Walking. It may be lower intensity than running, but brisk walking is still great cardio exercise—especially if you can go for at least 30 minutes at a time.
- Cycling. Both going out for a bike ride or riding the stationary cycle are great forms of cardio that put less stress on feet. The stationary bike may be preferred if your neuropathy is severe, you are unsure of how far you can comfortably ride, or unsure about weather conditions.
- Aquatics. The natural buoyancy properties of water allow you get great cardio while putting almost no strain on your joints—plus the water itself is refreshing! Swimming laps is great; so is water aerobics.
Strength and Balance Training
Strength training and balance exercises for your feet and ankles provide many benefits for neuropathy sufferers. Stronger muscles are able to support and balance you better, and are more resistant to injuries overall. Plus, stronger muscles are more efficient at using the oxygen supplied by your blood.
Fortunately, many of these exercises can be performed right at home, with little or no specialized equipment. For example:
- Calf raises. Slowly rise up to your tiptoes, hold the position as long as you comfortably can, then slowly lower. For support you can use a wall, kitchen counter, or sturdy piece of furniture. As you get more comfortable, try one foot at a time, with your other foot lifted behind you.
- Heel-to-toe walking. A great one for balance! Simply walk in a straight line by placing your heel directly in front of the toes of the other foot with each step. (The shoes should touch.)
- Seated dorsiflexion exercises. Sit in a comfy (but not too comfy!) chair with feet flat on the floor. Then, keeping your heels on the floor, flex your feet and toes upward as high as you can, hold, and slowly let them down.
Of course, if you do like to go to the gym, you can hit up the leg extension machine, hamstring curl machines, and other low-impact strength training workouts. On the flipside, you may want to avoid exercises that require heavy weight bearing, such as barbell squats.
Looking For More Info? Download Our Guide!
Exercise is just one component of living a healthy lifestyle despite your peripheral neuropathy. You also want to make sure you maintain a healthy diet, and of course work closely with your medical team (including the folks here at Sunshein Podiatry Associates) to make sure you get the advanced treatments you need.
To help you with the “at home” component, we’ve written a brief downloadable guide on health and wellness. Keep it on your phone or print it out to keep those diet and exercise guidelines easily accessible and top of mind!