Unlike some other forms of exercise, walking doesn’t require much special gear. But you should pay attention to your feet and make sure you have the right shoes and socks.

More than comfort is at stake. People with diabetes are particularly at risk for foot problems that can develop into life-threatening infections. Comfort is a good way to judge, however, and the proper footgear shouldn’t be hard to find.

Shoe Smarts

The ability of the shoe to cushion the foot and protect the foot are the two key requirements.

Many manufacturers produce walking shoes that meet these standards. Athletic shoes (sneakers) known as cross-trainers also are fine.

You want shoes that are well cushioned, with heels no higher than 3/4 of an inch. Higher heels bring more pressure down on the ball of the foot.

If you want glitter and fashion, you can spend $150 or more on walking shoes. But a mid-priced shoe – costing perhaps $50 to $75 – from one of the better manufacturers is probably all you need for safety and comfort.

Make sure the shoes fit properly, in terms of both length and width. If you have very broad feet, you may find it harder to get a good fit. Only a few athletic shoe manufacturers offer varying widths.

If you have a bunion or a foot deformity such as hammertoes, as many people with diabetes do, be sure that the toe box is broad enough. The shoe should fit comfortably; it should not rub against the tips of your toes or the ball of your foot. You don’t want to develop blisters or ulcers.

Importantly, the shoe should be comfortable at the time you try it on, Sanders says. Don’t assume that it will get comfortable once you have broken it in.

To get a proper fit, shop at an established shoe store that has experienced and qualified shoe fitters. If you are particularly hard to fit, find a store specializing in orthopedic shoes. Classified phone directories usually list them under “Shoes – Orthopedic.”

Sock Tips

Look for socks made of soft material, with a little soft padding under the heel and ball of the foot. The fabric should wick moisture away from your foot. Acrylic fibers, or a cotton/acrylic blend, will do the job.

Take a close look at the seam over the toes. It should be soft and flat. A prominent seam can cause abrasions and ulcers.

Keep in mind that, because of an insidious complication known as peripheral neuropathy (nerve disease), people with diabetes often lose protective sensation in their feet. Their toes could be rubbing up against their shoes the skin could be rubbing off – and they might not feel a thing.

So before starting anything that will put new pressure on your feet, it’s a good idea to talk to your podiatrist or diabetes care provider about how to protect yourself.

Walk Wear

What is the well-dressed exercise-walker wearing these days? Something comfortable.

Some people like to wear Spandex or to wear spiffy clothes, but it isn’t necessary. It really comes down to people being comfortable.

Jeans or tight pants aren’t a very good idea. Find something loose that will let you move freely and let air circulate around you. Choose material that is breathable, like cotton. Women may not need the kind of sports bra that runners wear, but they will want something that provides adequate support.

If you’re outdoors, think about wearing a hat to keep the sun off your skin. In cool weather, dress warmly, but in layers that you can remove as you warm up during your workout.

In one way, at least, go for the glitter: Particularly if you walk at dusk or after dark, wear reflective clothing so that motorists and bicyclists can see you.

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