A form of exercise that almost anyone can enjoy in any season, walking is a heart-healthy aerobic exercise that reaps many health benefits. Though walking itself is free, the biggest investment you should make is finding the right pair of walking shoes to best support your feet and protect you from injury. Michele Dierkes, PT, DPT, ATC, offers advice on how to find the perfect pair.
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Elements of a walking shoe
When you walk into a sporting goods or shoe store and see rows upon rows of running shoes , how can you find the walking shoes within the mix?
Dierkes suggests starting by picking up shoes to see how they feel. “A typical walking shoe is meant for comfort,” she says. “It must absorb 1.5 times your body weight when you walk, so it is designed to cushion the foot.”
Another test to find a walking shoe is trying to bend the shoe in half. Walkers are heel strikers , so finding a shoe that flexes across the entire foot is important, Dierkes explains. The midsole, located on the inside of the shoe underneath the liner, should be made of light, pliable material—usually ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA). Look for flex grooves on the outsole.
How is a running shoe different?
Running shoes tend to be stiffer and more durable than walking shoes. Developed using more technology for different running and foot types, the midsole of running shoes is usually made of more durable material, like polyurethane, Dierkes says. The denser midsole offers more support especially for those people with flat feet.
Finding the right shoe
There is no single prescription for the best shoe, because everyone’s feet are different. “I encourage fitness walkers to get running shoes, because they provide more support,” Dierkes says.
She even recommends getting fitted at a specialized running shoe store instead of your local sporting goods store. “They can tell by your gait whether it’s the right shoe for you,” Dierkes explains. If you have a history of injury or orthopaedic issues, see a physical therapist (PT) first. “We can take measurements and help you understand your foot mechanics, so you know what type of shoe will help prevent future injuries,” she says.
Looking to buy? Keep these tips in mind
If you live in a hot climate or tend to sweat, look for shoes with mesh uppers. Though shoes with leather uppers are water resistant, they are heavy and do not allow your foot to breathe.
Try to avoid the temptation of buying last year’s model on sale. The shock absorption of shoes decreases over time, so the longer a pair has been sitting on the shelf, the more likely the midsoles will have grown stiff and not cushion your feet as well.
“You should not feel the need to break your new shoes in,” Dierkes says. “They should feel good immediately.”
Your shoes are ready to be replaced when you have either: walked 400 miles, the bottom of the shoes are worn, or the shoes have begun to lose their shape.
This article was adapted from Cleveland Clinic Heart Advisor.