Pressure Distribution Across the Foot During Five Common Aerobic Exercises
Exercise is encouraged for everyone but especially those who have chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. Older adults with orthopedic or foot problems may be at risk from aerobic exercise that is repetitive and prolonged.

In this study, a group of physical therapists measured the amount of pressure put on the foot during five types of aerobic exercise. They measured the differences in pressure under the forefoot, arch, and heel.

Two groups of healthy adults were included. The first group was 19 to 35 years old. The second group was middle-aged between 45 and 60 years old. Measurements were made during walking, running, elliptical training, stair climbing, and recumbent biking.

Each of these exercises requires different movement patterns and weight distribution. Too much pressure for too long can cause pain and tissue injury. This is especially true for anyone with loss of sensation from neuropathic foot disorders.

The authors found that pressure varied on the forefoot, arch, and heel depending on the activity. For example, peak pressures were lowest on the forefoot while biking. The contact area under the forefoot was the greatest during running and walking.

Pressure under the arch of the foot was highest during running. Heel pressure was the highest during walking and running and lowest during biking. The only difference between the two age groups was that a larger area of the foot was subject to pressure in the younger age group. This was true for all the activities.

The authors conclude that biking and stair climbing may be best for anyone who needs to protect the forefoot. For example, patients with diabetes are at risk for foot ulceration when pressures are too high.

Anyone with heel pain from bone spurs may want to choose biking, stair climbing, or elliptical training over walking or running. Contact time is the longest during elliptical training making this choice less favorable for anyone at risk for tissue injury.
Judith M. Burnfield, PhD, PT et al. Variations in Plantar Pressure Variables Across Five Cardiovascular Exercises. In Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. November 2007. Vol. 39. No. 11. Pp. 2012-2020.