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10 Tips for Choosing Athletic Shoes

Proper-fitting shoes make all the difference whether you walk or run.

Feet Change continued...

Shop toward the end of the day. Feet swell over the course of the day; they also expand while you run or walk, so shoes should fit your feet when they're at their largest.

Bring your own socks -- the ones you wear while running or walking. If you wear orthotics, bring those, too. Shoes need to fit with the orthotic inside.

Don't believe in breaking in. Running and walking shoes should feel comfortable right away, Raiken tells WebMD. Walk or run around the store a bit to make sure they feel good in action.

Use the rule of thumb. There should be about 3/8-1/2 inch between the front of your big toe and the end of the shoe -- about a thumb's width. The heel should fit relatively tightly; your heel should not slip out when you walk. The upper part of the shoe -- which goes over the top of your foot -- should be snug and secure, and not too tight anywhere. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons writes that when fitting in to an athletic shoe you should be able to freely wiggly all of your toes when the shoe is on.

Understand the bells and whistles. Some models of running shoes look better suited to a space mission than a run in the park, but some of those groovy-looking features actually serve a purpose. Clear inserts, filled with gel, Freon, or air, provide extra shock absorption, as do those springy-looking things. These features are especially good for people who tend to get heel pain, says Raiken, and not so good for people whose ankles twist easily, as shoes with extra cushioning tend to provide less traction.

Some shoes allow you to pump up the tongue, which lets people with difficult-to-fit feet achieve a more customized fit.

Don't over- or underpay. Good-quality running and walking shoes are fairly pricey -- and usually worth it. "A $15-shoe will not be as good as an $80-shoe," says Raiken. But you'll pay a premium for super-fashionable styles or those associated with a celebrity -- and they won't be any better for your feet.

Know when to replace them. The average pair of running shoes should be replaced after about 350-400 miles of use, says Clifford Jeng, MD, a foot and ankle surgeon at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md. Better yet, go by how your shoes look and feel. Once the back of the sole is worn out or the shoe feels uncomfortable or less supportive, it's time to take those tootsies shopping again.

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