Put Your Best Foot Forward
Last week, I was in the market for a new pair of shoes. I had been exercising in year-old, cheap shoes that were looking quite worn. Seeing there’s a whole slew of different types of shoes to choose from (running, walking, aerobic, tennis, cross-trainers), I did some research on-line as to what type of shoe I would need. I found that since I do a combination of regular exercise – walking, light jogging, biking, using the Stairmaster, weight-training, and sometimes playing soccer or basketball with my children – my best choice was a cross-trainer.
You may be wondering if all these different varieties of shoes are really necessary. According to Dr. Stephen Pribut, a leading Washington, DC podiatrist, you do need to protect your feet and joints with the right shoes that fit properly. You also need to replace them every 3-12 months, or every 300-500 miles (depending on the activity). However, there is no sure-fire formula since so much depends on size, weight and sport. A lighter-weight woman who only walks or does aerobics may have shoes lasting longer than a taller, heavier-weight woman who plays basketball. This is an area where “pennywise and pound-foolish” couldn’t be more true. Injuries from worn-out shoes are particularly tough on runners who experience the greatest impact on their feet, next to basketball players, according to research by Nike’s product research department.
Stress fractures, shin splints, cartilage breakdown, osteoarthritis, lower back pain and injury to the plantar muscle in the foot are some of the injuries that can occur with exercise that involves shock waves from the foot hitting the ground.
Perry Julien, the Atlanta podiatrist who was in charge of athletes’ foot care for the 1996 Olympic Games confirms the importance of shoes. “Probably 15% of the injuries I see are related to ill-fitting, improper or worn-out shoes”, he says.
So – how to choose the proper shoe for you? Consider the different types:
- The running shoe: not only a choice for running, but also good for walking. Do not use for basketball, tennis, racquetball, aerobics, or other activities with excessive jumping, because they lack adequate support around the ankles.
- Basketball & tennis shoes: should offer good traction, ankle support and firm cushioning. Some new models have flared soles to not only offer extra ankle support, but to prevent the kind of ankle roll-overs that result in torn ligaments and sprained or broken ankles.
- Cross-trainers: an economical alternative to buying different shoes for every sport. These can be worn for running, walking, racquet sports, aerobics, and indoor-court sports such as basketball and volleyball. Serious runners are best off wearing the specifically designed running shoes, because cross-trainers lack the sufficient amount of cushioning and ankle support required for regular jogging.
- The walking shoe: designed for the race-walker. If you jog as well as walk for exercise, these are expensive and needless. In this case, stick with the running shoe, as they provide more wiggle room for your toes.
- Aerobic shoes: provide overall good support, a firm yet flexible sole, and are well cushioned. Choose the hi-top variety if you have ankle problems.
Now that you know which type of shoe is best for you, proper fit is of the next importance.
Here are some pointers:
- You should have at least a thumbnail’s width between your toes and the end of the shoe. Your foot will expand during the day, particularly after a run, so select your shoes later in the day, or after a run.
- They should fit snug, without pinching or slipping.
- The arch supports should provide a good fit, support and comfort.
- Try on several different brands; they all fit differently. From personal experience, I found that Nike runs narrower than other brands. Walk around in each shoe to see what feels best for you.
- If you choose a specialty store, take in your old shoes. An experienced salesperson can tell a lot about your gait pattern from used shoes, and can guide you to a shoe best for you.
As for myself, I’m enjoying the comfort of my new, proper-fitting, cushiony shoes, and using my old ones for mowing the lawn!