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About 67 million adults in this country have discovered that walking is one of the most fun, natural, and inexpensive ways of keeping your health—and your feet—in top shape. Walking can be enjoyed almost anywhere, any time, and year around. It's also a good way to get exercise, particularly for people who are out-of-shape.
According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, exercise offers a host of benefits. Walking helps control weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. A brisk walk can burn up to 100 calories per mile or 300 calories per hour. Walking also improves cardiovascular fitness. As an aerobic exercise, walking gets the heart beating faster to transport oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to the muscles. The heart and lungs grow more efficient with a regular walking regimen, reducing blood pressure and the resting heart rate. Walking is also a central element of medical rehabilitation for a wide array of health problems. For example, recovery from a heart attack can be facilitated by a regular walking regimen. Additionally, walking creates an overall feeling of well-being, and can relieve depression, anxiety, and stress by producing endorphins, the body's natural tranquilizer. A brisk walk will relax you and also stimulate your thinking.
To gain the most health benefit from walking, it is important to pay attention to your feet. Shoes that don't fit properly or provide adequate support, lack of stretching, and improper gait can lead to foot injuries or pain. The most common foot problems are blisters, corns, calluses, and plantar fasciitis.
The only equipment you need to enjoy walking for fitness is a good pair of shoes. But before you can shop for the best shoe for your foot, you need to identify the natural inclination of your foot and gait. There are three basic foot types:
- Pronators are people with relatively flat feet, caused by low arches, which generally leads to overpronation, or a gait in which the ankle rolls inward excessively. People with this foot type need motion control shoes that offer support for mid-foot. Motion-control shoes are more rigid and built on a straight last. These are generally board-lasted shoes, which have a piece of cardboard running the length of the shoe for greater stability. Look for sturdy uppers for added stability and avoid shoes with a lot of cushioning or highly curved toes. Also look for a reinforced heel counter to maintain foot support and stability.
- Supinators are people with high arches, which can lead to underpronation that places too much weight on the outsides of the feet. People with this foot type need stability shoes designed for extra shock absorption and often having a curved or semi-curved last. A slip-lasted shoe is also recommended, because the sewn seam runs the length of the shoe giving it greater flexibility. Also look for shoes that are reinforced around the ankle and heel to stabilize the foot and extra cushioning under the ball of the foot.
- People with normal feet can wear any type of walking shoe, although a curved last is generally preferred.
When you walk, the natural motion of your foot rolls gradually from the heel to the toe, with your foot bending at the ball on each step. That's why it is important for walking shoes to have enough flexibility in just the right places. A good walking shoe should give a little when you twist it and bend at the ball of the foot. When you put the shoe on a flat surface and push on the toe the heel should come up off the surface. If it does, the shoe has the curvature you need to conform to your movement during walking. Make sure the heel is low and not too wide. A slight undercut in the heel will help your foot begin its roll from the heel through the step.
Here are some other important tips for buying a good pair of walking shoes:
- Shop at the end of the day when your feet are slightly swollen to get a good fit.
- Try on shoes with the socks you will wear when walking. If you use an orthotic, bring that to the store when you try on shoes as well.
- Have your feet measured standing up and fit your shoes to the larger of your two feet.
- Be sure there is enough room in the toe box for your toes to wiggle and about a half inch between your toes and the end of the shoe.
- Take time when shopping to try on different brands and walk around the store in each pair. Be sure to walk on a hard surface, not just on carpeting. Let your foot be the guide to the fit, not the shoe size or style.
- Look for lightweight, breathable materials for greater comfort.
- Run your hand all over and inside the shoes to feel for any seams or catches that might irritate your foot.
- Choose shoes that lace for better foot stability and control.
- Make sure your heel fits snugly and does not tend toward slipping out of the shoe.
- Wear your walking shoes only for walking to extend their life. Consider buying two pairs and rotating your wear to give each pair time to breath between walks.
- Replace walking shoes after every 300 to 600 miles, depending on how hard you are on your shoes.