Consultant in Endocrinology,
Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders,
Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai.
Your feet have 26 bones and over 100 muscles, ligaments, tendons, and other soft tissue components that all work together to give you balance, support, and cushioning. They are built to withstand the pressure of walking and running, but only if you take proper care of them.
When you run a mile, your feet hit the ground approximately 1,600 times with a force equal to between two and four times your body weight. To protect your feet from damage, you must invest in a good pair of running shoes.
On Your Feet The ideal walking shoe should be stable from side to side, well-cushioned, and it should enable you to walk smoothly. Many running shoes fit all of these criteria well, and for most people are acceptable for a walking program.
However, there are specialty walking shoes that may work well for you. These tend to be slightly less cushioned, yet not as bulky, and lighter than running shoes.
Most important, whether you are wearing a walking or running shoe, is that it must feel stable to you. Either type of shoe is acceptable if it works well with your foot mechanics, providing cushioning and stability. Shoes should always feel comfortable and fit well in the store. Don't cut corners on your shoe budget; buying shoes is the only real expenditure necessary for the sport, so treat your feet well.
Pick a shoe with the following characteristics:
Spend plenty of time walking around the store in the shoes to make sure they're right before you purchase them. Never go shopping for walking shoes when you're in a hurry such as on your lunch hour. If the salesperson does not like your spending time over the pair of shoes, I would find another store!
Visit the shoe store late in the afternoon or in the evening, when your feet are slightly swollen. It's best to look for walking shoes at the time when your feet more closely approximate the size they'll be after you've been walking for a while.
Wear the same socks to the store that you will wear while walking. Try on at least four or five pairs of shoes. Put on and lace both shoes of each pair and walk around for a minute or two.
Just because you've always been a size eight means very little. A size eight shoe will vary considerably with style and features, especially among different brands. Remember that every shoe manufacturer uses a different basic shoe shape, or "last." Thus, it is not always possible to buy shoes just by telling the seller your usual shoe size. Some lasts are shorter or longer than others of the same size; some fit a wide foot perfectly, while others are cut for a slimmer foot.
Ask the clerk to measure your feet to find your current size. Feet change size with age, pregnancy, weight gain or loss, and even as a result of athletic activity. If a salesperson doesn't know how to measure your feet, or doesn't have the equipment (a Brannock Device), I would find another store.
Always fit the larger foot. If you have to, you can add a half insole in the front of the shoe of the smaller foot. Would you believe that a half-size larger is only a twelfth to a sixteenth of an inch difference? Most of us can use at least that much extra space in front of our toes.
If you buy a walking shoe that's too tight, you'll be compromising your comfort. A walking shoe must have sufficient room in the toe box area (front of the shoe) to allow adequate space as your foot flexes. Shoes that are too small will restrict the muscles and tendons in the foot, causing pain and cramping. One indication that a shoe is too tight is if your feet fall asleep while walking. If you get a shoe that doesn't have adequate room, it may feel OK in the store, before you start walking. However, shortly thereafter when your feet begin to sweat and swell a bit, the result will be numb feet in a constricting shoe. That's the reason for the thumb's width rule.
Tight shoes will not stretch to fit better. Don't think walking shoes need to be "broken in." A proper fitting shoe should fit well from the first day. If you still get blisters (and you're wearing non-cotton socks) chances are the shoe is too tight. Before buying, check the shoe's quality with the vertical heel test. Place the shoe on the store's counter and make sure the heel is straight up when looking at it from the back. Is the midsole well-connected to the upper? Is the stitching complete? Check inside the shoe for any irregular bumps. Avoid shoes which have been put together with nails.
When the shoes are on your feet, the heel should be snug. If it slides in the store, it will slide while you are walking. You should be able to wiggle your toes in the shoe, and there should be one half to a full thumb's width between the end of the longest toe on your longer foot and the end of the shoe's toe box. Make sure your ankles don't roll in the shoes.
If you have bunions or other special considerations, consult your podiatrist about the best shoe for you. If you have prescription inserts, substitute your insert for the existing one (most shoes have a removable insole) to make sure it will fit properly, if possible.
As a general rule of thumb, you should replace your walking shoes when you have walked in them for about 400 miles. Everybody is different. Some people strike harder or softer than others. Some walking shoes wear better than others. By looking at the bottom and sides of the walking shoes, you can tell when it is time to replace them.
Walking shoes can wear out in many places. Simply waiting until there are holes in them, or your feet start to hurt is not a good idea. As a walker you will tend to wear out your walking shoes at the outer heel and at the point where you push off with your big toe.
Also, if your walking shoes are soft or you strike the ground very hard, you may compress the heel of your walking shoes. You may also see your walking shoe leaning to one side. If your walking shoes clearly exhibit these signs, you may want to replace your walking shoes.
The fundamental question to ask yourself when buying athletic shoes is, do you need a different shoe for every activity that you participate in? All of the categories listed below have lots of crossover appeal - you can wear them exercising or you can wear them buying groceries.
So to decide what's right for you don't start with the shoe and what it offers, but with yourself and what you need.
Running Shoes - A good running shoe needs plenty of cushioning to dampen the impact of feet striking the ground. The shoe needs to provide stability as the foot rolls from heel strike to pushoff, flexibility to allow the foot to bend and traction to maximize grip. Ideally, the shoe will also be lightweight, with uppers usually made of nylon.
Walking Shoes - Because the motions involved are similar, you'll find many elements of running shoes in walking shoes, particularly shock-absorbent heels and midsoles.
Basketball Shoes - The most obvious feature of a basketball shoe is the high-top design for stabilizing the ankle during jumps. Flat soles accommodate quick stops and snap movements and its treads are designed for superior traction in many different directions.
Tennis Shoes - A tennis, or court, shoe will have cushioning in the midsole and insole, with a firm heel structure and roomy toe area that has reinforcement across the front.
Cross-training Shoes - The toe area and toe cap of cross-trainers are less substantial than a basketball shoe's, but more substantial than a running shoe's. They're less flexible than running shoes, but they provide more lateral stability for activities such as stepping or aerobics.
Aerobic Shoes - An aerobic shoe is similar to a cross-trainer, since it combines the light weight and shock absorption of a running shoe with the stability and toe/heel reinforcement of a basketball shoe.
Hiking Shoes - Hiking boots and shoes place a premium on water resistance, so they're put together using few seams where water might trickle in. The heel is reinforced, the ankles are supported with a padded high-top structure and the toes are given plenty of room. Soles are firm and heavily lugged for traction and durability.