Yes, there is a difference and shoes designed specifically for walking can really help. Walking shoes are designed for the unique heel-to-toe rolling motion of the foot in the walking stride-a stride that is very different from running. You'll experience less shin pain and other injuries by using a walking shoe. Plus, a shoe designed for walking will hold up better and last longer. Lastly, a good walking shoe can actually enhance your performance, by allowing a more fluid, rolling walking gait.
Three simple tests will give you a sense of how well a shoe is designed for walking:
- Poke 'em. A walking shoe should have a fairly low, rounded or beveled heel that allows a good rolling motion from heel to toe. Place the shoe on a table and push down firmly with a pencil at the very back of the shoe, inside the cup of the heel. If the heel is rounded or beveled sufficiently, the toes will lift off the ground. (Step Two) Now, let's look at the toe of the shoe. The end of a smooth heel-to-toe roll is aided by a noticeable bend upward at the toe of the shoe, called toe spring. Push down on the end of the toe-the more the heel lifts off the surface, the more toe spring the shoe has.
- Bend 'em. At the end of each stride, your foot bends through the ball of your foot just before you toe off. Grab the heel of the shoe firmly and push upward at the toes to see that the shoe bends where your foot naturally does, not under the arch. Beware of a shoe that bends through the arch. This lack of support can lead to discomfort in the bottom of your foot and arch.
- Twist 'em. As your foot accepts your weight, you imperceptibly load the outside of your foot first (the little toe), then shift your weight inward to the big toe. This slither from little toe to big happens quickly, without you even knowing it, but it's aided by a shoe with a bit of torsional flexibility. Grab the heel and toe of the shoe firmly and give a twist to look for modest flexibility, so your foot's independent suspension can do its work.
(Adapted from "The Complete Guide to Walking for Health, Weight Loss, and Fitness" by Mark Fenton, Lyons Press, 2001.)