Your Best Exercise Investment: Good Shoes
Forget expensive health clubs, exercise equipment, and designer sweats. You don't need them. But good shoes are a boon to even modest exercise programs built around everyday activities. You have to buy shoes anyway. Why not have them help you exercise? You don't have to spend a fortune. Just shop smart.
Check your feet. If you have flat feet, you need extra arch support. If you have a high arch, you need extra shock absorption. If you have weak ankles, consider high-tops.
Check your old shoes. Notice where they're most worn, and look for shoes reinforced in those areas.
Shop in the afternoon. Feet swell a little during the day.
Color is secondary. Good fit, support, and cushioning are all more important.
Get a good fit. Experts say there should be about 1/4 inch between your toes and the end of the shoe. Good fit is especially important for women. Fashion dictates that women have dainty feet, and dainty means small. As a result, many women buy shoes that are too small for them, and then suffer chronically aching feet. A recent study by the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society showed that 88 percent of women wear shoes too small for their feet. If you'd want to squeeze into Cinderella's glass slipper, save it for the King's Ball. For everyday exercise, wear shoes that fit.
Match your shoes to your activities. No single pair of shoes is right for all activities. Walking and running involve primarily forward motion and require front-to-back cushioning. Housework, tennis, dance, and gardening involve pivoting and require more side support.
Try on both shoes. Feet can be different sizes.
Check the weight. Usually, the lighter the better.
Check the traction. Shoes should not slip on any surface.
Look for men's or women's lasts. "Lasts" are the foot-like mold on which shoes are made. Women's feet are different from men's. Buy shoes made for your gender.
Test them. Shoes used for exercise should feel comfortable in the store. They shouldn't require breaking in. Jump up and land on your forefoot. In well-cushioned shoes, you should feel almost nothing. Rock from side to side. You shouldn't wobble. Pivot in different directions. Your shoes should feel flexible.
Consider Orthotics. Manufacturers design shoes for the average foot. But with 26 bones and dozens of muscles, tendons, and ligaments, the average foot may bear little resemblance to yours. That's why many people's feet hurt even after they've splurged on good walking shoes. To soothe those sore dogs, try orthotics. Also known as arch supports, innersoles, or inserts, orthotics customize mass produced shoes to fit unique individual feet. Start with over-the-counter orthotics available at shoe stores, drugstores, and shoe repair shops. "Ready-made orthotics are inexpensive, often effective, and they cause no harm if they don't help," says David B. Alper, D.P.M., a podiatrist in Belmont, Massachusetts.
Orthotics not only provide extra support, they also subtly reshape the feet by changing balance and the demands on some foot muscles. "This retraining takes time," Dr. Alper says. "On day one, wear your orthotics for two or three hours, then add an hour a day to allow your feet to adapt to them."
Unfortunately, not everyone finds happiness with ready-made orthotics. If your feet continue to hurt, it's time to consult a podiatrist for custom-made orthotics. They typically cost $200 to $300, Dr. Alper says.
Fit Comes First
How does it all fit together? "There are many things to look for," says Mark Fenton, and editor at Walking magazine, "but four are at the top of the list: fit, roll, weight, and flexibility."
Buy the color and style you find aesthetically pleasing, but above all, make sure the shoes fit. Your arch should rest on the shoe's arch. Your heel should be held firmly but comfortably in the heel counter. There should be some space between the tips of your toes and the front of the shoe.
Many people, especially women, prefer shoes that make their feet look petite and narrow. As a result, they often buy shoes that are too short and narrow. In fact, a study by the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society showed that 88 percent of women wear shoes too small for their feet. That's a one-way ticket to foot problems. Make sure that your toes aren't pressed up against the front of the shoe, and that the sides of your shoes don't chafe your feet.
Roll. The front and rear of the outsole should be rounded to encourage a smooth, rolling heel-to-toe stride. Running shoes often have flat, flared outsoles at the heel and toe to absorb the shock of runners' foot-strikes. Walking shoes don't need this extra shock absorption, and shouldn't have it.
Weight. The lighter the better. Walking magazine recommends shoes weighing 8 to 16 oz.
Flexibility. Walking shoes should not feel stiff, or restrict foot flexing. Stiff shoes sore feet and may contribute to muscle strains.
Toe shape. A square-ish toe provides the most room and optimal comfort. Avoid pointed toes.
Shock absorption. The insole, midsole, and outsole should feel well cushioned, but not spongy.
Padding. The more the better, especially on the tongue, collar, and around the heel.
Heel. Most experienced walkers prefer a notched heel with a firm counter for support and stability.