Choosing the Right Pair of Sneakers

Socrates once said “When our feet hurt, we hurt all over.” As usual, he was on to something. Running and working out become that much easier when your feet feel good, and the right pair of sneakers can prevent leg, knee, hip and foot pain now, as well as down the road.

“Sneakers” may be a old-fashioned term, but that’s still how I think of them. These days there are so many choices: running shoes, walking shoes, tennis shoes… but whatever you choose to call them, the right footwear can make a big difference. Whether you’re going to a fitness class, running outside or using treadmills for walking, there are some dos and don’ts to follow when shopping for a new pair of sneakers.

First off, don’t get swayed by advertising and marketing that can lead you to believe that the more expensive the sneaker, the better it is for you. A 2007 Scottish study found that lower-priced running shoes cushioned feet just as well as higher priced ones, and sometimes better. Also, remember to get re-sized after pregnancy and other weight gain or loss, because it may affect your shoe size. I know my feet grew an entire size after having two kids!

Here are some tips given to me by Dr. Robin Ross, past president of the New York State Podiatric Medical Association, on how to go sneaker shopping:

·  Time it well. Shop for walking/running shoes in the afternoon, when feet are larger because they “naturally swell”.

· Go soft. Buy shoes made of materials that are soft, supple and breathable, like leather, canvas or a nylon mesh. Plastic doesn’t allow sweat to evaporate, and it may cut into the skin.

· Coordinate your socks. When trying on sneakers, wear the kind of socks that you will normally be wearing to work out. If the shoes do not make you feel like you are “walking on a cloud” right then and there in the store, try on a different pair or even a different brand. If they don’t feel great right away, then they will probably never feel great. You shouldn’t have to “break in” a pair of exercise shoes – that will cause avoidable blisters and pain, and it’s rarely worth it.

· Size matters. Since shoes are not all made by the same manufacturer, you may be a different size in different brands. Try a half to a full size larger in running shoes if your toes feel the tip of the shoe – as you run, or walk quickly, your foot may slide forward and you may need the extra room. If you are a woman with a very wide foot, proper sizing can be tough; try men’s walking or running shoes, which tend to be wider.

· Err on the side of caution. If you have pain when you run, contact your podiatrist. Foot pain is not normal, and nothing makes you feel better than peace of mind.

Also remember, when buying new sneakers, to take your old ones with you so that the salesperson can assess the wear pattern. Knowing what kind of feet you have (i.e. flat feet, high arch) will help you decide what type of shoe will work best for you. Finally, be sure to find out what the store’s return/exchange policy is in case your new purchase gives you blisters, or simply doesn’t feel right after your first run.

Bottom line: buy for comfort and fit before color and style (in other words, just the opposite of what many women do when buying shoes).

What has worked for you? What hasn’t? Share your tips for choosing the right pair of sneakers in the comments.


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