Walking on a bumpy surface isn't necessarily pleasurable, especially for one of our testers of the new Fitterfirst Cobblestone Walkway and Mat, who claims she has sensitive feet.
But we wanted to test these walking and standing surfaces, partly because of the 2005 research by the independent Oregon Research Institute that showed walking on such bumpy stuff can actually lower blood pressure and do other good things in seniors who took part in a daily cobblestone walking program. (Click here to see a summary of that study).
We also knew the Chinese used cobblestone walks and mazes for health, perambulating on the uneven surfaces each day as a way to stimulate the acupressure points in the feet.
The Cobblestone Walkway (16 inches by 6 feet long) and Mat (a 16-by-16-inch square) from Fitterfirst are thick, flexible, lightweight, felt-like pads with plastic imitations of smooth, river-worn cobblestones of different sizes and shapes attached.
The instructions for both actually suggest taking some time to get used to being on the mat with your entire bodyweight, at first standing with just the balls of your feet on it, just the heels, and then just standing before actually doing the recommended shuffle-walk for up to 30 minutes at a time. And we concur on the need for that, depending on your personal tolerance level. Also, if you use it on carpet, you'll feel less pressure on your feet than on hardwood.
The small, square mat is simpler and works well below desks or in front of chairs where someone might sit so the person can place his or her feet on it during the day for mini-treatments. Our tester for that item found he kept it at his feet and rubbed his feet on it during the day, sometimes standing up during phone calls on it or while stretching on computer breaks during the day.
Our testers for the walkway used it to walk or even "dance" on for a few minutes at a time during the evening, although it took a bit more getting used to than the mat.
We have to admit, we did not do the formal 16-week program that builds up to 25 minutes on the mat three times a week, but we used it regularly enough to say this: It feels dang good once you get used to it. There is a stimulating wake-up massage that occurs that produces a bit of a tingle and can refresh tired feet and a sloggy mind.
What we can't do is vouch for the study that shows a regular cobblestone walking program by seniors can lower blood pressure, improve balance and produce other gains in some physical functions. Of course, that also means we can't and won't say it does not work. One, we aren't seniors, which was the study population and, two, we didn't use it as done in study, building to 30 minutes during a 60-minute exercise session, three times a week. We do wonder how much the other exercises during the hour-long sessions in an inactive bunch may have affected the results too, but without more studies, that's impossible to say.
Whether proved or not, this is a therapy item that will stay placed conveniently in the family room for occasional walks.
SNEWS® Rating: 4.0 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: Walking, $40; Mat, $15
For more information:www.fitter1.com or 1-800-Fitter-1