Feet first: how to choose shoes

It’s estimated people walk around 150,000 kilometres during a lifetime. Looking after your feet with good footwear will help them last the distance. Here are some tips on selecting the right footwear.

If the shoe fits

"Comfort is the most important factor when buying shoes," says Dr Paul Dowie, a musculoskeletal podiatrist from Foot & Leg Pain Clinics. "To find a proper fit, ensure there is a thumb’s-width distance between the end of your longest toe to the end of the toe box (top of the shoe)." 

Walk this way

"Exercise footwear selection has traditionally been based on foot type, support, or cushioning for arch height," he says. However, experts now also recommend choosing a comfortable shoe designed specifically for the exercise type you are doing. 

"Walking in an urban environment requires a comfortable walking or running shoe," says Dr Dowie. "If you're walking in a bush environment, a trail- or hiking-specific walking shoe or boot is ideal."

If you take part in high-intensity exercise, look for shoes which provide support and cushioning. "This helps spread the impact forces and lessen stress on the body," he says. "The materials and design of different exercise shoes take into account sports which require side-to-side movement or straight-line movement in the foot."

Buy more than one pair

“When you wear sports shoes every day, the mid-sole compresses," says Dr Lowie so it’s important to "alternate your shoes to allow the mid-sole to decompress and extend their lifespan."
Woman trying on shoes in a shoe shop

Keep or throw?

The typical lifespan of an exercise shoe depends on lots of factors such as activity type, body weight, and shoe materials. 

Instead of a hard and fast rule, "check the shoe for obvious wear to the sole, upper and internal structure weekly after the first few months," says Dr Dowie. "If the shoe is falling apart, then immediate replacement is important, as a shoe that fails can cause injury." 

Thongs, flats or heels?

Whatever shoes you wear, ensure you're comfortable at all times, and pay attention to any signals your body may be sending you. 

"Some individual anatomies tolerate flat shoes or heeled shoes better," says Dr Dowie. "Some people have a restriction in their capacity to bend their toes, ankles, knees and hips which may restrict their footwear options. Sore feet, knees or hips may suggest you need to change your shoe type or heel height." Ideally, he says, wear a shoe with a ‘drop’ of 1-2cm (from rear to front) more often.

Are insoles worth it?

Store-bought insoles do not significantly improve foot or body function, says Dr Dowie. "Functional foot orthotics need to be specifically designed to target the individual's requirements, such as foot or leg pain, and improve stress patterns through joints and tissues. If you have any pain or discomfort in your feet or legs, visit an experienced musculoskeletal specific podiatrist to find out if functional foot orthotics are appropriate."

When choosing shoes for everyday, exercise, or formal events, the most important factor is comfort. If you do experience pain, change your footwear, or visit a podiatrist for advice. 
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