Cecilia Gordon Kane can cancel her gym membership.
Or so the claims of her new athletic shoes may lead her to believe. By just walking in her new sneakers, the Atlanta resident supposedly will receive a complete workout: strengthened muscles, toned legs, core and back, and calories burned.
“I felt like it would be an investment in me because I needed to get moving,” said Kane, who bought a pair of Chung Shi shoes after reading product claims and celebrity testimonials in magazines. The rocker-bottom-designed shoes cost about $240 at Foot Solutions, a local retailer backing the claims by offering its customers $4 per pound lost wearing the shoes during summer.
New and older shoe manufacturers are touting health claims such as cured back pain, improved posture and diminished varicose veins with a slew of products hitting the market constantly. From sandals to athletics, shoes have gone high-tech with design features such as rounded soles and heels, extensive cushioning and contoured shapes to mimic walking barefoot.
The sheer abundance of shoes and their accompanying claims makes sorting through fact and fiction no easy feat for consumers or even industry professionals.
“It's a lot of hype and often not a lot of supported substance,” said Bruce Williams, president-elect of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, who equated the claims to those of energy drinks. “While there may be some truth to the claims … most people can do a lot better with a decent pair of running shoes or getting more active.”
Whether a shoe can produce significant health benefits is questionable, agreed Mark Geil, director of biomechanics at Georgia State University, noting a lack of scientific study to confirm or deny product claims as of yet.
“I don't think we'll ever replace the gym with a shoe, but it would be nice,” he said.
Finding the right shoe is a never-ending challenge, said Perry Julien, a podiatrist who specializes in sports-related injuries. There is not a consensus of what even makes better walking conditions, so we need all types of shoes and devices to accompany them, he said.
What benefits one wearer may not produce similar benefits for another because every foot is unique. Everyone needs something different in a shoe.
The normal foot simply does not exist, so your individual foot type, size and function determine which shoe you need. Try to match your foot type with the best shoe for that type, he said.
“People are often looking for what's new and better, but they'll find out that what's new is not always better,” Julien said. “It's about what works best.”
Ultimately, the shoe that will work best is the one that fits best.
Size matters, and about 85 percent of people are wearing shoes that are too small, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Running shoes, in particular, need to be a half to a full size larger than street shoes, the ACSM recommends.
“With your standard shoes, you can feel what fits you well,” said Geil, director of biomechanics at Georgia State University, who noted that sizes vary between brands. “You have a better sense than anyone who is fitting you.”
Good-fitting shoes should not be too narrow or too high, should have plenty of room, especially around the toes, and they should have some flexibility through the middle and back.
High price does not equate to high end, said Williams.
A good-fitting shoe does not have to cost $250 and have all the bells and whistles, he said, citing various Dr. Scholl products sold at reasonable price at Wal-Mart. The AAPSM rates various shoe brands on its Web site.
“Feet are the last thing people think about until they can't walk,” said Williams of people limping in discomfort for the sake of fashion. “Your feet should not hurt,. There's no reason to put up with that.”