If you are a walker, jogger or runner, now is a good time to select a new pair of athletic shoes for spring. Although last year’s running shoes may look fine and feel even better, if you are a regular exerciser they have most likely outlived their usefulness.

If you are a walker, jogger or runner, now is a good time to select a new pair of athletic shoes for spring. Although last year’s running shoes may look fine and feel even better, if you are a regular exerciser they have most likely outlived their usefulness.

Your running shoes are composed of essentially three layers of sole.

The inner sole is soft and comfortable, but has little benefit as far as absorption of landing force.

The outer sole is hard and constructed to contact the road surface without wearing out or breaking down. Like the inner sole, it does not play a major role in shock absorption.

That leaves the mid-sole layer, which is designed to absorb some of the landing force and lessen the impact to the feet, ankles, lower legs, knees, thighs, hips and lower back.

The mid-sole material works well for about 500 miles of running. After that, the mid-soles become more compacted and less capable of doing their job.

Although you may not notice the difference (at least at first), this gradual breakdown progressively places more and more stress on your muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones, which increases your risk of injury.

If you don’t keep track of the miles you run in a given pair of running shoes, simply estimate your usual weekly mileage. For example, if you average a 10-minute-per-mile pace, and you run 40 minutes a day, five days a week, then you accumulate about 20 miles each week.

At this rate you will total 500 miles in about six months.

As a rule, most recreational runners should plan on purchasing two pairs of running shoes per year.

Of course, if your weekly mileage is higher, you will need to change shoes more frequently.

Running involves a non-contact phase during which both feet are momentarily off the ground. The landing force on each foot is at least three times your bodyweight.

Even at a relatively slow pace, each foot and leg must absorb landing force equivalent to three times your bodyweight every step of your run. Good shoes with resilient mid-soles can significantly lower the stress to your lower body and lower back.

Unlike running, walking does not involve a moment where both feet are off the ground at the same time. When you walk, regardless of the speed, at least one of your feet is always in contact with the pavement. The landing force is less and there is less impact stress to your musculoskeletal system.

As a result, the shoe mid-soles maintain their effectiveness longer when used for walking instead of running.

Nonetheless, I recommend that serious walkers buy shoes every year, or every 1,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Although the incredible Ethiopian distance runner Abebe Bikila won an Olympic marathon gold medal running the 26.2-mile race barefoot, he was an exception to the rule.

Most of us need correctly designed, well-constructed and properly fitted athletic shoes to move at a higher performance level and a lower risk level.

Take the time to work with a shoe specialist who can help you select shoes that are best-suited to your feet, weight and exercise program.


Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is senior fitness executive at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass., adjunct instructor of exercise science at Quincy College, and author of 22 books.