BPT -- No one disputes that exercise provides a host of health benefits, from helping control weight to improving cardiovascular functions. But exercising in the wrong footwear can cause more harm than good, especially since foot health is integral to overall well-being.
"To get the most out of your workout or from playing a favorite sport, it's imperative to choose the right footwear for the type of exercise you'll engage in," says Dr. Matthew Garoufalis, a podiatrist and president of the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). "Improper footwear can lead to irritation and injury."
Foot or ankle sprains and fractures are the most common types of injuries related to exercise and footwear. The type of exercise or sport you prefer can influence the type of injury you could experience. In general for example, foot and ankle sprains and fractures are more common among football players, while basketball players may suffer more ankle sprains and runners experience stress fractures to feet or ankles.
APMA offers some guidance on how to avoid foot injury while exercising:
* Always warm up before exercise. Just as you stretch to warm up leg and arm muscles, your feet need to warm up gradually too.
* If you experience foot pain while exercising or engaging in physical activity, stop immediately. Foot pain is not normal and you shouldn't feel any when you exercise. If pain persists even after you stop your workout, see a podiatrist.
* Always wear supportive shoes that are appropriate for the type of physical activity you're engaging in.
Choosing the right footwear can help ensure you minimize the risk of injury and enjoy a more productive and comfortable workout. When choosing workout or sports footwear, keep these pointers in mind:
* Choose a running shoe based on your foot type: low/flat arch, normal arch or high arch. You can find a graphic of what each foot type looks like on the APMA web site. If you have a low or no arch, you need a supportive shoe designed for stability and motion-control. Normal arched feet require a shoe with a balance of stability and cushioning to help absorb shock when your feet meet the ground. For people with high arches, a cushioned running shoe with a softer midsole and more flexibility compensates for the poor natural shock absorption of the higher arch.
* Also take into account the kind of activity you'll do. Runners need more arch support and cushioning to absorb impact. Basketball players require extra ankle support to prevent injury from side-to-side movement - which is why basketball shoes come up over the ankles.
* Don't go it alone when you're shopping for a workout or sports shoe. Go to a store that specializes in athletic footwear and ask to be professionally fitted before you buy. Shoes should fit comfortably as soon as you try them on; never assume you'll "break in" an uncomfortable athletic shoe. Shop toward the end of the day, when feet are at their largest due to normal daily swelling.
* Whatever your exercise or sport of choice, your athletic shoes should offer plenty of support in the front and back.
Finally, when athletic shoes begin to show signs of wearing out, it's time to replace them. Examine the tread, especially around mid-sole. Generally, you should replace athletic shoes every year, and running shoes every 300 to 400 miles.
To learn more about foot health, or to find a podiatrist in your area, visit www.apma.org.