Q: My primary form of exercise is walking; does it really matter what shoes I wear?
A: Yes! Physical activities like walking offer important health benefits, including lower risk of cancer and perhaps better outcomes for cancer survivors. Pain or injury is among the most common reasons people abandon efforts to increase activity, and what’s on your feet can be a big factor in that. Good shoes provide support that helps avoid ankle, shin and knee injuries. This doesn’t mean you need the most expensive model, since higher price can reflect better quality or simply marketing hype.
Ideally, start at an athletic shoe shop where employees are knowledgeable about the needs for different activities and different types of feet. If your feet have high arches, you need extra shock absorption and good stability to keep from sideways weight shifts that strain your ankles. If you have flatter arches, you need good mid-foot support and stronger heel control. A toe box wide enough for your feet and good flexibility around the ball of the foot is important for everyone. Once you get a sense of the kind of shoes that are best for your feet and your activity plans, you can start looking for where you’ll get the best deal.
Choosing the right shoe is only part of how shoes help you stay active without injury or pain. No matter how good your shoes, as they wear out, they no longer provide the support they did when new. Some guides suggest replacing shoes every 350 to 500 miles – about every three to nine months if your walking is providing recommended amounts of activity. Certainly when the traction on the soles is worn flat, or heels are worn down, or you no longer feel the same sideways and heel support, it’s time for a new pair. If they help you continue an active lifestyle without injury, they are a good investment in your health. For more tips on choosing shoes for physical activity, check with the American Council on Exercise.