No matter the activity -- walking, running, weight lifting, even standing all day (as I do in surgery) -- it's important to find the correct shoes. We all know exercise exaggerates the impact on our lungs, our heart and our muscles, but most exercise also multiplies the impact on our feet. Who hasn't suffered the consequences of ill-fitting shoes only after the shoes have been "activity tested," say, during a day of walking? Or in high humidity and heat? Or when carrying weight, such as a child or a backpack?
Everyday shoes are divided into simple sizes, which may give the impression that all feet come in only a handful of variations. In reality, our feet come in myriad shapes and sizes, not as individual as fingerprints, but nearly. To select a pair of shoes that will support you through the increased rigors of exercise, you need to find shoes that match all aspects of your feet, including your gait, foot shape and foot motion.
1. Determine your gait. Your gait is essentially how you move your hips, knees and ankles. Staff at specialty sports shoe stores can evaluate your gait and tell you which shoes are designed specifically for it.
2. Narrow your choices to shoes with the proper last. Shoes are molded around a solid form called a last (creating wide toe boxes or narrow heels, for example). Staff at athletic shoe stores can tell you which shoe companies specialize in making shoes with the right last for your feet.
3. Cull your options to shoes that cater to your foot's shape. To determine shape, wet your feet and stand on a piece of paper, then step off. Normal feet leave a footprint where the heel and forefoot are connected by a wide band that narrows slightly where your foot arches; ideal shoes for these feet feature cushioning and stability. Feet with high arches leave a print where the forefoot and heel are connected by a very narrow band; ideal shoes are flexible but not so much so that all cushioning has been eliminated. (You'll want some cushioning to absorb shock.) Flat feet leave an entire footprint; ideal shoes are those that control the tendency for flat feet to roll inward.
4. Finally, pick a shoe with the right motion control. Motion control keeps your feet from rolling either inward or outward. See the layers of cushioning on the outside of the shoe's sole? The white material is softer, the gray harder. If you pronate (your foot rolls in), select a shoe with lots of gray at the arch. If you supinate (your foot rolls out), choose a shoe with lots of gray on the outside.
By the way, if you also suffer from blisters, like me, choose socks that fit the contour of your foot rather than tube socks. A single wrinkle can cause a blister. And if your feet get hot and sweaty with exercise, a thin sock with a thicker sock over it may alleviate rubbing and also help keep your feet dryer. ( Eric Heiden, M.D., a five-time Olympic Gold medalist speed skater, is now an orthopedic surgeon in Utah. He co-authored "Faster, Better, Stronger" (Collins) with exercise performance physician Max Testa, MD, and DeAnne Musolf. www.heidenothopaedics.com)