Best Shoes For Healthy Feet

Healthy feet are the foundation of a healthy body. If you’ve ever had to deal with foot pain, you know just how much it can impact your life—not to mention your wallet.

Good news: We have some tips that will help you take control of your foot health and get back on your feet (literally).

Best Shoes For Healthy Feet

These Are the Healthiest Shoes To Wear, According to Scientists

Recall a time when you took a long walk on a beach. Your feet probably felt pretty tired by the end of it. “Your feet are tired because every time you press down on sand, the sand moves away from you, so your foot muscles have to work harder than on stiff surfaces,” says Daniel Lieberman, chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.

The difference between walking on shifty sand or hard cement is comparable to the difference between walking barefoot or in shoes. “When you walk in shoes, your feet are pressing against a stiff substitute for the ground that makes the muscles in the feet have to work less than if you were barefoot,” he says.

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While less work may seem like a good thing, it may actually leave your feet vulnerable to injury. Lieberman and other researchers have found evidence that people who predominantly walk or run in “minimal” shoes—shoes that mimic your bare feet by ditching arch support and a restrictive toe box while incorporating a very thin, flexible sole—tend to have stronger, stiffer feet than those who wear traditional shoes. (Vibram FiveFingers and New Balance Minimus are two examples of minimal shoes, but some flexible ballet flats that don’t crush your toes also fit the bill.)

Why are stronger and stiffer feet healthier? “The concern is that a weaker foot is a foot prone to problems like flat feet,” Lieberman says. In flat feet, the bones forming the arch of the foot don’t really arch—they lie flat on the ground. Research has linked flat feet to knee pain, cartilage damage and low-back pain. In civilizations around the world, “people who are habitually barefoot or minimally shod have much lower rates of flat feet than habitually shod populations,” Lieberman says.

Given all this evidence, there’s a case to be made that the ideal footwear is the one you were born with—or at most a minimal shoe. But traditional shoes can be good for your feet, too. “We”—meaning human beings—“started wearing shoes for a reason,” Lieberman says. “They’re comfortable and they protect our feet, so there are benefits and costs.”

Determining the “healthiest” shoe for a given person has to take into account their age, health status, walking and running habits, and other factors, he says. For example, some people accustomed to running in traditional shoes who quickly transition to minimal footwear may be at risk for injury, and so will those who slam their feet down when they walk. “Also, people with neuropathy who have loss of sensation in their feet—you put them in a minimal shoe, and that person will probably hurt himself or herself,” he says.

But there are some simple rules to follow when shopping for healthy footwear.

“The two main issues with people’s footwear are poor fit and heel elevation,” says Hylton Menz, a podiatrist and professor of biomechanics at La Trobe University in Australia. Some of Menz’s research on older adults shows that too-short or too-narrow shoes can lead to foot deformities and increased risk for weakness and falls, as well as growths like bunions, corns and calluses. The healthiest footwear for both older and younger adults should fit well and have a low, broad heel, a thin and flexible sole, and some kind of lace, strap or Velcro to ensure the shoe stays firmly attached to the foot, he says.

Sandals and flats often fit this description, though many don’t. And if you’re wondering about the benefits of orthotics, the research is mixed. (If you’re suffering from foot or joint problems, talk through your optimal shoe choices with your doctor.)

As you might expect, high heels are problematic. “There are certainly many negative consequences of wearing high heels, especially over a longer period,” says Mickey Wiedemeijer, a human movement researcher at University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands who has published research on walking gait and high heels. Along with causing forefoot pain, high heels can result in lordosis, an inward curving of the lower back that can lead to pain, she says.

The risks associated with heels are especially great among older and heavier adults. But even if you’re young and slim, Wiedemeijer recommends mixing up your shoe choices. If you insist on wearing heels, “regularly switching footwear from high heels to lower heels will prevent muscles from overstraining, and [allows] joints to load differently with a larger range of motion,” she says.

Even if you don’t wear heels, her advice to regularly switch up your shoe styles may be prudent. “Do the same thing over and over, and you get stress injuries,” Lieberman says. Wear the same style (or pair) of shoes all day every day, and you may be asking for trouble, because you’re not mixing up the demands placed on your muscles, bones and joints.

In short, there’s evidence that time spent barefoot or sporting minimal shoes may help strengthen your feet and save you from pain and injury. Also, frequently changing up your shoe styles and leaning toward properly fitted footwear—ideally something with a low heel and a thin, flexible sole—are other good ways to keep your feet and body healthy.

10 Top Shoes for Happy, Healthy and Hip-Looking Feet

Sandals, mules, flats and other shoes that feel as good as they look

Spring is a gift to our feet. Liberated from boots, tights and socks, winter feet get indulged with pedicures and comfortable sandals. However, this is also the time when bunions, hammer toes, soles and heels make us think: “Uh-oh. I better stock up on a good supply of Band-Aids!” You’d think the open-air approach would solve everything, but experience has taught us that not every shoe we fall in love with will love us back. Here are 10 ways to make sure your new picks do.

  • item 1 of Gallery image Toms Alpargata Espadrille Slip-On in Pink Multi; Anne Klein Women's Ryles Heel Sandals in Fuchsia Orange; Dansko Kandi Slide Sandal in Blue MoldedPHOTO BY: NORDSTROM; MACY’S; NORDSTROM(Clockwise from bottom left) Toms Alpargata Espadrille Slip-On in Pink Multi ($60, nordstrom.com); Anne Klein Women’s Ryles Heel Sandals in Fuchsia Orange ($79, macys.com); Dansko Kandi Slide Sandal in Blue Molded ($80, nordstrom.com)1. Know your feet may have grownJust like breasts, feet change in shape and size with age. After age 50, feet are bonier and lack padding and they may even be bigger. In fact, your usual size 7 may now be an 8. Don’t get stuck on a specific size since size varies brand to brand. Since one foot is usually larger than the other, size each shoe to that foot. Whether you’re buying shoes in a store or online, try them on at the end of the day, when your feet have swollen with hours of walking and standing. And here are two tips on returns: Never keep shoes that feel a tad too small. They won’t stretch with wear — that’s a myth. If your toes hang over the front edge of sandals, say no again. They’re too darn small.
  • item 2 of Gallery image Kelly and Katie Jayde Flat; Lucky Brand Alba Flat in Cobalt; Time and Tru Women’s Soft Square Toe Ballet Flat in CamelPHOTO BY: DSW (2); WALMART(Clockwise from top left) Kelly & Katie Jayde Flat; Lucky Brand Alba Flat in Cobalt; Time and Tru Women’s Soft Square Toe Ballet Flat in Camel2. Look for flats with supportNo matter what’s trending, ballet flats remain one of our favorites. But if you can bend those ballet flats in half, beware. Those with thin flimsy soles and no structure or inner cushion are tough on mature feet. They can lead to a painful condition known as plantar fasciitis, in which the band of tissue running from heel to toe becomes inflamed. Take ballet flats like the Kelly & Katie Jayde Flat ($50, dsw.com/en/us), Time and Tru Women’s Soft Square Toe Ballet Flat in Camel ($15, walmart.com) and Lucky Brand Alba Flat in Cobalt ($69, dsw.com/en/us) with padded footbeds (your gold standard), and look for additional healthy feet features like knit uppers, square toes and a higher vamp, so your toes don’t feel crunched like sardines.
  • item 3 of Gallery image Bzees Smile Women’s Washable Wedge Slide in Berry Mimosa Stripe; Everlane The Italian Leather Day Heel in Light Taupe; Bella Vita Jodi Sandal in Navy Fabric; Journee Collection Women’s Perette Block Heel Slide Sandal in YellowPHOTO BY: KOHL’S; EVERLANE; NORDSTROM; FAMOUS FOOTWEAR(Clockwise from top left) Bzees Smile Women’s Washable Wedge Slide in Berry Mimosa Stripe; Everlane The Italian Leather Day Heel in Light Taupe; Bella Vita Jodi Sandal in Navy Fabric; Journee Collection Women’s Perette Block Heel Slide Sandal in Yellow3. Stick to a 2-inch heel or wedgeStilettos are no longer part of our 50-plus vocabulary, but the leggy effect of wearing elevated shoes sure is. Right now, there are plenty of sturdy-looking block heels and wedges with a 3- or 4-inch height. Don’t get fooled! They’re actually jamming your toes forward and shifting your body weight onto the balls of your feet. Ouch! If you want a leg lift, stick with a height of 2 to 2 1/2 inches, which puts less stress on your feet and ankles but provides enough of a rise to stretch your silhouette. Always check the fit at your arch in a mirror. Too big a gap, and the contour of the shoe and your arch is not a good match. Choose a block heel sandal like the Bella Vita Jodi Sandal in Navy Fabric ($90, nordstrom.com) or Journee Collection Women’s Perette Block Heel Slide Sandal in Yellow ($49, famousfootwear.com), a pump like the Everlane The Italian Leather Day Heel in Light Taupe, Bone Stacked or Black ($145, everlane.com) or a casual wedge like the Bzees Smile Women’s Washable Wedge Slide in Berry Mimosa Stripe ($85, kohls.com).
  • item 4 of Gallery image SoftWalk Sandy in Beige; Open Edit Cammie Slingback Pump in Green Obi; Born Inlet in TaupePHOTO BY: ZAPPOS; NORDSTROM; ZAPPOS(Clockwise from top left) SoftWalk Sandy in Beige; Open Edit Cammie Slingback Pump in Green Obi; Born Inlet in Taupe4. Consider a slingbackLet’s face it, a shoe that connects with your heel in some way is a little more dependable than a mule or slide when climbing stairs or walking quickly, and looks polished even in trendier versions. Slingbacks are a good breathable alternative to open sandals and a more businesslike option for work. Flats like the SoftWalk Sandy in Taupe or Beige ($100, zappos.com), a ballerina style, or the Born Inlet in Taupe, Turquoise or Black ($95, zappos.com), a peep-toe with airy instep, are modern ways to go. For a more classic look, opt for a sling with a low kitten heel, like the Open Edit Cammie Slingback Pump in Green Obi or Black ($50, nordstrom.com).
  • item 5 of Gallery image Trotters Nora Slide Sandal in Red; Marc Fisher Calvie Slide Sandal in Dark Pink; H&M Braided Slides in Dark BeigePHOTO BY: NORDSTROM; DSW; H&M(Clockwise from top left) Trotters Nora Slide Sandal in Red; Marc Fisher Calvie Slide Sandal in Dark Pink; H&M Braided Slides in Dark Beige5. Choose toe- and foot-friendly mules and slidesThese comfy styles are backless: Slides have open toes; mules, closed ones. One of the hottest trends for both looks is a sandal with one or two soft, wide woven bands that gently but confidently secure the foot. They’re easy on bunions, corns, hammer toes and other front-of-foot and mid-foot issues. The Trotters Nora Slide Sandal in Red ($100, nordstrom.com) has wide crisscross straps and a block heel, the more casual H&M Braided Slides in Dark Beige ($25, www2.hm.com/en) have a single puffy band and the Marc Fisher Calvie Slide Sandal in Dark Pink ($60, dsw.com/en/us), with a low block heel and a braided strap, will make your feet say … ahhhh.
  • item 6 of Gallery image Naturalizer Kayden Mule in Black; Brinley Co. Women’s Open Toe Slip On Mule in Tan; Steve Madden Mentor Flat Sandal in TanPHOTO BY: DSW; WALMART; DSW(Clockwise from top left) Naturalizer Kayden Mule in Black ($70, dsw.com/en/us); Brinley Co. Women’s Open Toe Slip On Mule in Tan ($45, walmart.com); Steve Madden Mentor Flat Sandal in Tan ($85, dsw.com/en/us)6. Treat heels to TLC if you love backless shoesWho doesn’t love the open feeling of backless shoes? However, a steady daily diet of mules, slides and clogs can leave heels extra vulnerable to calluses and cracking, due to the constant friction. Be sure to use a moisturizing cream on the edges of your heels at the soles every evening. The other issue here is keeping the shoes on your feet. If you’re a fast walker, have sweaty feet or end up using your toes as “clingers” with every step, try using adhesive inserts on the balls of the shoe or swipe your soles with stick antiperspirant deodorant to prevent backless shoes from flying off.
  • item 7 of Gallery image Old Navy Faux-Leather Pointed-Toe Loafer Shoes for Women in Bare Necessity; Cliffs by White Mountain Women’s Gracefully Wide Loafer in Light Blue; Ann Taylor Suede Tassel Loafer in Countryside BluePHOTO BY: OLD NAVY; FAMOUS FOOTWEAR; ANN TAYLOR(Clockwise from bottom left) Old Navy Faux-Leather Pointed-Toe Loafer Shoes for Women in Bare Necessity; Cliffs by White Mountain Women’s Gracefully Wide Loafer in Light Blue; Ann Taylor Suede Tassel Loafer in Countryside Blue7. Choose shoes with a comfortable toe-boxWiggle your toes. If you can’t, your shoes are too small or too narrow. Be sure your front-of-shoe toe-box width and shape are comparable to your feet. Podiatrists always suggest giving up pointy shoes, but some pointy shoes out there actually work, and here’s why. Though some styles are needle sharp (avoid these!), plenty of others — even those labeled pointed-toe — have a more gentle point bordering on an almond shape, like the Cliffs by White Mountain Women’s Gracefully Wide Loafer in Light Blue or Butter Cream ($59, famousfootwear.com), Old Navy Faux-Leather Pointed-Toe Loafer Shoes for Women in Bare Necessity ($30, oldnavy.gap.com) and Ann Taylor Suede Tassel Loafer in Countryside Blue ($138, anntaylor.com). Whether you prefer a pointy-ish toe or a more rounded one, choose shoes in the softest leathers and suedes for toe comfort and be sure all toes, from pinky to big, have room to flex when sitting and standing. Wiggle and walk around for at least 10 minutes before heading for the cash register, or do a day test-run at home before designating them as keepers.
  • item 8 of Gallery image Aerosoles in Conclusion Women’s Sandals in Navy; EuroSoft Landry II in Grey 1; Birkenstock Women’s Essentials Arizona Footbed Sandal in Multi Metallic GoldPHOTO BY: KOHL’S; 6PM; FAMOUS FOOTWEAR(Clockwise from bottom left) Aerosoles in Conclusion Women’s Sandals in Navy ($79, kohls.com); EuroSoft Landry II in Grey 1 ($43, famousfootwear.com); Birkenstock Women’s Essentials Arizona Footbed Sandal in Multi Metallic Gold ($50, famousfootwear.com)8. Check all shoe details by handThose strappy sandals, suede loafers and pedicure-revealing thongs may look beautiful, but how are they making your feet feel? Sometimes even the comfiest shoes have irritating details that go unnoticed. Play detective by sliding your fingers all along and under the straps and collar band of shoes. Check edges of bands and peep-toes, and any hardware — especially buckles, zippers or chains — for sharp spots, and run pads of fingers along all points where shoe meets the skin of your foot, inside and out. This is one step we usually neglect to do when buying new shoes.
  • item 9 of Gallery image JBU by Jambu Women’s Torino Mule in Dusty Pink; LifeStride Women’s Socialite Medium/Wide Espadrille Wedge Sandal in Black Canvas; Vionic Beach Pismo in WasabiPHOTO BY: FAMOUS FOOTWEAR (2); ZAPPOS(Clockwise from top left) JBU by Jambu Women’s Torino Mule in Dusty Pink ($49, famousfootwear.com); LifeStride Women’s Socialite Medium/Wide Espadrille Wedge Sandal in Black Canvas ($70, famousfootwear.com); Vionic Beach Pismo in Wasabi ($65, zappos.com)9. Rotate your shoes every dayStinky shoes are a fact of spring/summer life, especially if you have the same sandals on repeat and don’t give them time to air out. That’s not good for you or your social life! First of all, alternate shoes since they do need time to dry, breathe and have a chance to reduce bacteria buildup. Change shoe type and heel height, too, to give your feet, ankles and back a break. You might vary your rotation from espadrille wedges to ballet flats to sneakers to slides and back again. To reduce shoe odor overnight, give one of these a try: sprinkle baking soda in shoes before bed (and dump it out in the morning or at next wearing); stuff shoes with scented fabric softeners to absorb moisture and freshen; or make DIY sachets to live in your shoes. Just snip off the toes of old, clean pantyhose, fill them with tissues dampened with essential oils (eucalyptus and tea tree are particularly effective deodorizers) and secure with a ribbon.
  • item 10 of Gallery image Touchups by Benjamin Walk Zoey Sandal in Bronze Metallic; Korks Women’s Primrose Comfort Sandal in Sage Green; bernie mev Tara Blossom in Red; Easy Street Women’s Bugsy Comfort Slip-On Flats in TurquoisePHOTO BY: DSW; MACY’S; ZAPPOS; MACY’S(Clockwise from top left) Touchups by Benjamin Walk Zoey Sandal in Bronze Metallic ($79, dsw.com/en/us); Korks Women’s Primrose Comfort Sandal in Sage Green ($95, macys.com); bernie mev. Tara Blossom in Red ($79, zappos.com); Easy Street Women’s Bugsy Comfort Slip-On Flats in Turquoise ($55, macys.com)10. Break in travel shoes before you leave homeHow many times do we not wear “special” shoes till day of? This includes those purchased for trips or events, like a wedding or reunion weekend, getaways to the beach or a road trip. While an emergency kit of gel pad inserts is a good idea, a better one is to spend some at-home time (a full day) wearing your new shoes for a test-drive before venturing out. Slip on a pair of light socks if you really want to give those shoes and your feet every opportunity to get used to one another.

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