What Are the Healthiest Shoes for Your Feet?

October 19, 2011 | By | Comments (6)

Not to get all Andy Rooney-crotchety or anything, but…whatever happened to just plain old SHOES?

Between the influx of “barefoot” or otherwise minimalist shoes, as well as the rise in so-called “toning shoes” (those with thick, rocker-like soles), it’s hard to know just what to put on your feet, be it for exercise or just for walking around town!

The proponents of barefoot-type shoes (which I tried last year) say that our feet were never meant to be encased in such heavy armor—that they function best, and that your lower leg and foot muscles perform optimally when they can feel the ground.

Those who favor the more chunky, curved-soled shoes (such as MBT, FitFlop, Shape-Ups, and other varieties) point to research as well as plenty of enthusiastic anecdotal evidence that these shoes recruit more muscle activity from the glutes and hamstrings—thereby toning the legs and burning more calories than your standard shoes, as well as potentially alleviating back pain and other problems.

But recently, there’s been more doubt about both categories’ claims. In September, the FTC ruled that Reebok would pay more than 25 million to customers in a settlement over deceptive advertising for their EasyTone shoes. (I also tried them last year.) In short, the claims didn’t bear out. (Reebok disputes this but has removed prior advertising.)

And a recent study from the American Council on Exercise tested out the barefoot shoes (such as the popular Vibram Five Fingers shoes), and their results were a bit troubling. In their study, half of the women who switched to barefoot running or minimalist sports shoes failed to adjust their form, resulting in more wear and tear on their bodies, not less.

And now there’s yet another entry into the market of specialty shoes, these ones endorsed by none other than integrative health guru Dr. Andrew Weil, and created by an Australian podiatrist. Called Orthaheel, this line of shoes features a built-in orthotic heel, so that they support, cup and comfort your foot, and in doing so they correct the natural bio-mechanical problems that plague so many feet—leading to foot pain, knee pain, back pain, and problems all the way up the kinetic chain. (Essentially these shoes ensure that the foot and ankle are aligned in a straight line, as opposed to the natural—and often problematic— sinking inward of the ankle, called pronation.)

I think the Emma lace-up boots ($100, pictured below), in particular, are pretty darn cute— perhaps a more supportive, sturdy alternative than the ubiquitous UGG boots so many people shuffle around in all winter??

Other styles include a sneaker, a Mary Jane, and slip-on moccasins, all with the same “technology” built into every shoe. Since it’s not quite cold enough for me to be clomping around in such warm boots, I’ve only worn them for a short time around the house, and so I can’t say how they feel over the course of a day or several days…but as the temperature dips I’ll report back with a fuller review!

What’s your shoe preference? Have you gone barefoot, gone bigger, or otherwise changed your footwear choices for health reasons?