- General

What About All Those Fancy Athletic Shoes?

The health benefits of regular walking are widely known – weight control, improved mood, decreased blood pressure, lowered LDL (bad cholesterol), raised HDL (good cholesterol, increased overall fitness. We’ve all been walking since we were toddlers, so it would seem as easy as lacing up your tennies and heading out the door, or hopping on the nearest treadmill, to get a program going.

But walking shoes and shoe technology have come a long way since we all wore our first pair of Keds or Chuck Taylor’s. We are endlessly bombarded with advertising about shoes that will make walking easier, or less stressful to our joints, or maybe even give us more shapely posteriors. We’d all like a shoe that will be comfortable and protective when we walk, but are these fancy new shoes worth their generally high price tag?

Shaper or toner shoes have a rocker bottom, instead of a flat sole. The manufacturers claim that these shoes will change your gait in a way that will activate more muscles, allowing you to burn more calories and decrease stress on your joints Their ads also indicate that regular use of these shoes will give you a more toned and curvy “caboose”. Unfortunately, hard science does not bear these claims out. A recent biomechanical study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) showed that although the initial use of these shoes activates some additional and different muscles groups, the body quickly adapts to the gait change, and no significant increase in calorie expenditure is noted. In a written release, their chief science officer Dr. Cedric Bryant was quoted as stating “Toning shoes appear to promise a quick-and-easy fitness solution, which we realize people are always looking for. Unfortunately, these shoes do not deliver the fitness or muscle-toning benefits they claim.”

Shoes with built in springs that give extra forward propulsion also do not provide any benefit in protecting the joints or increasing your caloric output. On the downside, both of these type of shoes have been associated with lawsuits wherein the individuals have claimed a variety of injuries related to these shoes including ankle fractures, back pain and even hip fractures due to instability and increased stress on bones and joints. So, let the buyer beware!

What shoes should you wear when you walk for exercise? First, you don’t have to break the bank to get a good shoe. According to a recent consumer rating organization, a good, supportive walking shoe can be purchased for about $30. Make sure whatever shoe you buy (rocker bottom, leaf-spring, or traditional flat sole) that it fits your foot well and is comfortable. You will want your arch and heel to be well supported. Check for seams or other bumps that might cause pressure points. Breathability of the shoe is important. You’ll need more if your feet tend to sweat, less if you are walking outdoors in cold weather. If you want to try out an alternative sole, go to a walking or running shoe store and try them on first. Walk around the block, up and down a hill and make sure you feel sure-footed. If you feel unsteady or have discomfort in any joint then these are probably not the shoes for you. Happy walking!

Anne P. McCormack, M.D.