I love walking as an activity – you can take it anywhere, do it any time, in almost any weather if you are keen enough! It’s also fantastic because all the family can walk; from the youngest grandchild to the most senior parent walking can be undertaken by us all!

What we should not forget is the enormous health benefits associated with walking.

I often challenge my patients to find me a better health activity for them to undertake. Over the years we have seen walking as an activity recommended for reducing the risk of dozens of disease and conditions we would all like to avoid or prevent! From heart disease to diabetes, arthritis to depression walking is a “health pill” of sorts not to be ignored!

With this in mind it is essential to make sure that you get a good start to any walking program you begin. Sadly many times, after watching people begin a walking program with zest, I oftensee them stop due to pain when walking. This doesn’t need to be so! Almost 7 out of 10 times I find the single biggest contributing factor to their pain is a poor choice in foot wear!

That is why choosing a walking shoe is so important. Choosing an athletic shoe once came down to colour and style. But with the amount of science and engineering that goes in to modern shoe design, there is now a lot more separating running shoes, walking shoes, cross-trainers and tennis shoes than just appearance. In fact, the technology and design that make walking shoes ideal for walking actually make these shoes impractical and potentially harmful to runners, and running shoes dangerous to a walker. If getting your health right is important to you read on.

Walking and running put different demands on the body because the mechanics of each activity is fundamentally different.  When you walk, you roll your foot from heel to toe through the ball of your foot in a fluid motion that evenly distributes your body weight for a longer amount of time than occurs while running. Also, since both your feet are on the ground more often when you walk, the compression and impact on your feet is less intense than it is when you run (three times your body weight for runners versus 1.5 times for walkers). As a result, walking shoes and running shoes have specially designed features to handle the differing demands and mechanics of each activity.

  • Heel – You will see a subtle difference in the heel of a walking shoe it tends to not be as wide or flared as its running shoe cousin. Walking shoes don’t require these flares for shock absorption and balancing impact. In walking shoes we are looking at promoting a natural heel to toe roll through motion.
  • Toe – In a walking shoe the toe of the shoe or if you like its “nose”, is squarer and not as turned up as a running shoe. This also allows for more room for your toes and adds to a comfortable ride while taking your walk. The upturn nose on a running shoe is there for a  quick toe off. On walking shoes the toe area is wider and more substantial providing more protection.
  • Sole – this is where I often see people go wrong! There is a lot of conflicting information out there about how flexible a sole should be. For my money I like to see my walking shoes flex at the toes but not in the middle!

Walking shoes are designed with certain sections of the sole with flexibility to help your feet roll more easily from heel to toe, promoting a natural walking motion. It really is a balancing act here and like tight rope walking, it is essential you get it right. If the sole of your shoe is too stiff, your feet will smack against the pavement rather than gliding over it, which can cause serious pain and discomfort.

However if your shoe is too flexible particularly through the midsole of the shoe and bends, then this is where I see people develop overuse injuries. So my golden rule for walking shoes? Your shoe can bend where your foot does – at the toes and NOT in the middle!

Cushioning – Technology for walking shoes has come along light years. Now you will find that technology and in particular cushioning has been recognised as an important part of your walking shoe, is it the same as running? – NO.

Walking as we have said has specific needs and manufactures are placing more appropriate cushioning in the heel. It is different to running footwear and you will find many of the running footwear counterparts are designed with loads of cushioning with a heavy heel strike in mind.

Sidewalls – Take a look at running footwear and you will see flashy colours and truck loads of mesh, which assist with breathability and perspiration. However look at a walking shoe and you will see warm neutral colours and sturdy leathers and like materials. Top range walkers will have really practical materials like Gortex™ to keep out the wet from the dew on those wet winter mornings. These hardy materials also allow you to take on more than your flat oval and let you head down a fire trail into a national park somewhere and get a little more adventurous!

In essence the old adage “you get what you pay for” rings true here. Invest a little more and make sure you get a good quality shoe that will keep you pain free. So too: “the right tool for the job”. Yes, you can walk in a running shoe, but you’re going to do it more comfortably and will be better equipped in a purpose built walker for walking!

Don’t let buying the wrong shoe get in the way of staying fit and healthy!

For all your Foot and Lower Limb Care needs, come and see us at:
A Step Ahead Foot & Ankle Care
24 Phillip Street, St Marys; or
Suite 4, 36 Woodriff Street, Penrith