Thursday, July 2, 2009

Finding the Right Athletic Shoes

When it comes to shoes for exercise, the choices are overwhelming. But the bottom-line is simple: Shoes should fit well and feel comfortable. The right shoes offer both support and flexibility where you need it. And, they protect your bones, joints, and muscles--from the toes to the top, keeping your feet in healthy positions and absorbing shock. 

Walking shoes? Running shoes? Sports shoes? What's the difference? Walking shoes are the most rigid and durable. But even for walking, many people prefer running shoes. That's no problem. Running shoes provide plenty of cushioning, which can feel good to walkers. In fact, if you have high arches in your feet, running shoes may even be better because of their extra flexibility in the front (toe) half of the shoe. 

More tips for runners: If you have low arches, look for hefty arch support and a fairly straight cut along the inside edge of the sole. If you have high arches, look for tame arch support and greater curve along the inside edge. 

Specialty shoes are designed according to the way your feet move. Running shoes are geared for heel-to-toe movement. Shoes designed for tennis and related sports offer maximum support from side-to-side. If you engage in a variety of athletic activities, you may be looking for a pair of cross-training or general purpose athletic shoes. 

Regardless of your sport, some general guidelines apply to all shoe shopping: 
1. Shop for shoes in the afternoon, when your feet are at maximum size. (They swell during the day). 
2. Wear the socks you normally wear with athletic shoes to assure the right fit. 
3. Try on both shoes. Most people's feet vary a bit in size from each other, so you should be sure the shoes fit your largest foot comfortably. 
4. Check for space at the end of your longest toe. There should be enough to let you move without pinching. Some experts recommend the length of a thumbnail. 
5. If you're a woman and your feet are wide, try men's shoes. These are usually cut wider. To find a size for starters, start with your own size, and subtract two. 
6. Move around in the shoes, and insist that they feel like a perfect fit right away. If they don't, keep looking. 
7. Use the "feel" test for any high-tech gimmicks. Some may help. Some may be hype. Your feet will know! 
8. Don't shop by price alone, but do look for materials that breathe and good workmanship. 

When should you replace shoes? Even if they feel OK, they may be losing their ability to cushion and support your feet after prolonged use. Rules of thumb: Replace running shoes after 500 miles, walking shoes after 1,000 miles, and aerobics shoes after about a year of regular use. 

Choose shoes that feel terrific, and replace them regularly. If you do this, you'll be able to call your shoe-savvy one of your best athletic "feets"!

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