Exercise or ergonomics?
October 1, 2014 12:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to incorporate more exercise in my life by walking more, but is this necessarily better when all the increased walking is done in high heels?

I'm talking "taking the farther parking lot at work", "choosing the Starbucks one block away instead of next door" type of changes. Just tiny incremental changes to hopefully stave off an early death by excessive sitting (I already spend my entire day in an office with terrible ergonomics).

I typically wear 2.5 to 3 inch stiletto pumps. Changing shoes is non-negotiable, and is not the point of today's question. My question is - is this endeavour worth the effort, or will the increased impact on my back, knees and hips mean it's a net negative?
posted by hellopanda to Health & Fitness (16 answers total)
I am not a doctor or podiatrist but based on my own shoe-wearing experience I'm going to say that extra walking on 3-inch heels is going to do more harm than good.

Can you convert to a standing desk at work? Just standing instead of sitting will make a big difference, and if you're stationary behind a standing desk then perhaps you could discreetly slip out of your shoes from time to time.

The only other recommendation I'd have would be to get a good cobbler to modify your high heels to be more ergonomic. It's too bad you're all the way over in Singapore -- but if you ever find yourself in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, go to Cesar's Shoe World and ask Cesar to give your shoes "the cocktail waitress treatment." He can make most high heels (which are mandatory work attire for many women in Las Vegas) more comfortable than even running shoes!
posted by Jacqueline at 12:27 AM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you aren't in pain from your shoes or from walking in general adding a few blocks here and there isn't going to harm your health if you have a well made and well fitted shoe and your feet are in good health and you are walking on a surface suitable for stiletto heels.

If you have problems with your knees, hips, or back and are already in pain in these areas when wearing heels, you'll probably be better off in the long run to get extra exercise when you aren't wearing heels.
posted by yohko at 12:54 AM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would just try it and see. When I wore them regularly I could walk miles in heels with no problems.

If you do get pain, could you take some foldable ballet flats in your bag to wear outside the office? I know you said changing shoes was non-negotiable but I am not suggesting ditching the heels altogether - lots of city worker bring 'outside shoes' to work with them.
posted by tinkletown at 1:41 AM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you're wearing shoes that are uncomfortable to walk in, it's a no brainer that you're walking less than you ought to be.

If you find three inch heels comfortable to walk in, then your question is moot and it's fine to walk that extra block or so in the name of cardiovascular health. I mean, an incremental few steps here or there is really not any different than wearing the heels in the first place, from a podiatric standpoint. It's not like 5000 steps a day is fine, but 5500 is going to kill you.

Also, separate shoes for commuting (or stepping out to get lunch) is a long standing tradition in highly formal corporate workplaces where heels are expected.
posted by Sara C. at 2:20 AM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sorry to focus on the shoes again, but there are stilettos with hidden platforms that can somewhat minimize strain (and it's for sure beyond common to commute in flats and keep work shoes at work). Wrt your question, I don't think there's a way to answer it definitively. (I guess we'd need your anthropometrics plus family history plus time walked on which surfaces with your particular gait, and that would still only lead to probabilities.) I agree that walking a bit more will probably not harm you, and that you should pay attention to any pain that does develop.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:26 AM on October 1, 2014

Wearing high heels always puts you at more risk of falls, and such. But, if you are able to walk comfortably and without any issues now in your high heels, I would go for it.

(If its an option, I would also add in a timer at your desk, whether on your computer or phone, reminding you to walk around periodically.)
posted by troytroy at 2:52 AM on October 1, 2014

Response by poster: Additional details: I just turned 30 this year, and have no personal or family history of muscular/joint issues.

Re: "comfort". It's subjective, isn't it? I'm accustomed to wearing heels and have been so for the past 4 or 5 years. That said... I've been feeling like I'm no longer the sprightly young thing who can traipse around all day in the worst terrain while wearing heels. I'm beginning to notice worrying signs of pains and prolonged aches in my knees, back and hips, and I'm hoping it's not too late to ward off any long-term wear and tear. I suspect also that there's something to be said about the sheer relief I feel when I slip into comfortable walking shoes on weekends. So I'm not suffering now, but am afraid of causing long-term harm in the name of chalking up more steps on the pedometer.

Standing desk - not an option, unfortunately.
Regular walks during work - I'd be in heels, so the same issues arise!
posted by hellopanda at 4:36 AM on October 1, 2014

This may not answer your question but speaking as someone who used to wear wear 3+ heels somewhat regularly, I found a huge difference in the ergonomics of expensive heels vs mid and low range heels. For me the comfort level and ergonomics between a pair of Pradas vs Cole Haan or Nine West was really staggering. I am saying this as someone who does not like to spend much money on clothes and actively dislikes displaying designer items. The comfort in walking a few blocks was really noticeable, so if you have not already tried going the high-end route, I highly recommend it.
posted by seesom at 5:48 AM on October 1, 2014

Best answer: Yes, my podiatrist has told me that it's better to sit as much as possible than to spend more time in heels. Then he showed me a video of how walking in heels causes damage to the body, structural changes that occur slowly over time. Walking or standing in heels causes long-term and very harmful changes to the foot, the spine, and the overall musculo-skeletal system. They are, flat-out, bad for you. There is nothing good about them, other than a social aesthetic preference for the way they look.

Ultimately, you'll likely be forced to give them up, because your body will simply not be able to take it anymore. And it may be that at that point, the injuries you're causing now by wearing them will be irreversible. The aches in your knees, back, and hips, are your body's way of warning you that you are causing it damage, and if you continue, those pains will get worse and become permanent.

For me, this wouldn't be worth it. If your work requires you to wear heels, do the laws where you are allow you to request an accommodation from the dress code if you can get a note from your doctor saying that your health is affected? And if your work doesn't require you to wear heels, please consider whether your preference now is worth the potential long-term harm that appears to already be starting. But for now, I'd stay seated as much as humanly possible, and try to get my exercise in on the weekends, when I could wear properly supportive walking or running shoes. You might also consider getting prescription orthotic insoles to help support your body when you're wearing real shoes, to try to counteract the damage you're doing all week.
posted by decathecting at 5:49 AM on October 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: And in the meantime try to at least vary the height of the heels. Keeping your foot unnaturally at an angle is bad, but keeping them unnaturally at the exact same angle all the time is worst. At least varying the heel height shifts your spine into slightly different positions each day, which could help a little in the short term.
posted by decathecting at 5:51 AM on October 1, 2014

Best answer: I'd suggest walking and standing in the heels as little as possible and sneaking in lots of periodic stretching relief sessions. If you can kick your shoes off under your desk unobtrusively there are some helpful exercises you can do while seated to stretch your achilles tendon and your feet a little bit, such as rolling a cylinder back and forth with your feet. If you can get a moderately soft ball about six inches in diameter you can sit at your desk and squeeze it between your knees to strengthen your knee and thigh muscles. Other more visible exercises could be done in the washroom to counter effect the damage the heels do to your spine and legs.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:21 AM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try to add more stretching. Calves and back (lay on your back on the floor and gently pull knees to your chest, 2 minutes).
posted by sammyo at 6:30 AM on October 1, 2014

Best answer: Heed decathecting's cautions. The damage caused by high heels builds up over time, even if you're wearing shoes that aren't killing your feet (in part because the damage caused by high heels affects so much more than just your feet--your feet may feel ok but your calves are still shortened, your lumbar spine is still over-arched, etc.) FWIW, my sister works in a job where she spends all day on her feet and has to look presentable, and 20 years of doing it in heels screwed with her musculoskeletal system so much that her doctor banned her from wearing heels, ever, again, before she hit 40.

I think your time would be much better spent parking as close as possible and minimize the time spent walking in heels to/from work or Starbucks or whatever so you can get home sooner, put on some proper shoes, and get your exercise only then.
posted by drlith at 6:48 AM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

If the sidewalks are rough, or brick, or if there's foul weather, the small heel of a stiletto can be a tripping/ falling hazard. I applaud your effort; building exercise into your day is a great idea. A spare pair of loafers or other flat shoes in the car or purse for the walk to the office, or a walk at lunch. Flat shoes can be cute, too. Maybe build in a stop at the park for a walk on your way home.
posted by theora55 at 9:03 AM on October 1, 2014

> I'm beginning to notice worrying signs of pains and prolonged aches in my knees, back and hips, and I'm hoping it's not too late to ward off any long-term wear and tear

Go see a physical therapist now, before it gets worse. You're probably picking up bad habits to avoid discomfort, and throwing your whole body off. If you insist on wearing high heels -- why, why? -- a PT should be able to work with you to find shoes that are the least-bad, and exercises you can do to mitigate the damage.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:24 AM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If you insist on wearing high heels -- why, why?

What now seems like a misplaced idea of femininity, grit and grace :( Thanks for all the advice and dire warnings. I marked as best the answers that offered practical ways of mitigating the harm caused by wearing heels during the day (stay seated, walk less, stretch). Clearly I'm not going to be shaking off the habit completely or immediately, but all this is sticking in my brain and I'll also be trying to slip into flats a little more often. Thanks.
posted by hellopanda at 12:21 AM on October 2, 2014

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