When it comes to walking, most people put on any old pair of sneakers or flip flops and go about their daily activities. Some may even choose loafers or high heels, depending on the day or event. However — and especially when it comes to walking for fitness — it is important you have walking-specific shoes on.
Of course, for your shoes to be most effective, you also must understand proper walking posture. Both will help you avoid injury and get the most out of your aerobic exercise.
“Everyone’s foot structure is different; there are some things that cannot be fixed with proper shoes,” says Brian Brateris, DPT at Professional Physical Therapy in Spring Lake, New Jersey. “An appointment with a licensed physical therapist or podiatrist can help identify issues and correct or adapt to them.”
Whether you’ve been walking for fitness for years or are just looking to start, here is what to know to make sure your shoes have the right function and fit.
WALKING VS. RUNNING SHOES
You may think it is OK to walk in your running shoes — and chances are if you only do it a few times, it won’t cause too much stress to your feet and legs. However, there are differences between the two; enough differences, in fact, that owning a pair for each activity is encouraged.
“Walking and running shoes differ in a few ways, most notably in the construction and placement of midsole cushioning, support and the flex zones,” explains Cori Burns, Run Category Manager at Under Armour. “There are greater impact forces and different foot mechanics when walking versus running.”
Burns shares that when you walk as a means of aerobic exercise, you strike in the heel and have a neutral stance in the midfoot before your foot rolls into the toe-off. When running, however, there are a variety of foot-strike patterns, so the cushioning between the two types of shoes is located in different places to offset this difference.
“A running shoe will typically have more cushioning through the forefoot and more medial focused flexibility through toe-off,” she explains. “[In walking shoes,] the cushioning is focused primarily in the heel, the midfoot often has a slightly wider base to support the midfoot-stance, and the heel to forefoot ‘slope’ is more dramatic to help promote a smooth [rocking] transition.”
WHY YOU NEED THE RIGHT SHOE
Besides comfort, the biggest reason to make sure you have the proper shoe for any activity you do is to lessen injury risk. This is more than injury to just your feet or legs; it can actually affect the alignment of your entire body and therefore, your posture.
“Your feet are where your body meets the ground. Making sure that your foot meets the ground properly will prevent any issues related to misalignment,” notes Brateris. “A shoe that does not provide proper arch support can cause the arch to collapse, the knees to buckle toward each other, the hips to rotate inward and the arch in your lower back to be increased which can cause pain.”
In addition to pain prevention, Burns adds that the right shoe can actually make running and walking feel easier. This is because you are able to strengthen the right muscles for your specific activity to improve your overall posture.
WHAT TO CONSIDER WHEN SHOPPING
When it comes time to shop for a pair of walking shoes, you should actually treat the process exactly like you would a pair of running shoes. This means you will want to visit a specialty store to see experts who are trained in fitting customers for the right pairs of shoes based on activity and gait.
“It’s very important to be fitted for proper size and width, for comfort and injury prevention,” confirms Burns. “If you have not been brannocked to determine your shoe size and width recently, it’s important to do so. Local running specialty stores will be able to fit and offer the best footwear choices for both running and walking.”
Additionally, Brateris adds that you should talk to the staff and detail your prior history. This includes not only the shoes you currently wear but also any injuries or treatment you may have received. This way they can take any pre-existing conditions or injuries into account when helping fit you with the proper pair.