Fantastic! You’ve made up your mind to exercise, and now you’re ready to get equipped. What’s first? Shoes and socks? OK, that shouldn’t be too hard, right? Wrong!

Today’s selection of athletic shoes is not limited to a small area in a clothing shop. Entire stores are dedicated to athletic shoes – and for good reason.

The athletic shoe industry has come a long way in the past 20 years. Millions of dollars in research and development has paid off in high-tech foot gear that can add pleasure and safety to your exercise program. But even experts can be bewildered by the vast array of footwear offered.

So where do you start? Can you put on your old high school gym shoes and “just do it?” Well, maybe. But first you need some information.

Hey, Doc

Your first stop should be your podiatrist (foot specialist). Every person with diabetes should have a foot doctor. Your foot doctor will alert you to any potential problems. For example, if you have nerve problems in your feet (neuropathy) or poor circulation (peripheral vascular disease), you’ll want to take extra care when you choose shoes and socks.

If you have a problem with calluses, or if your feet function abnormally (if you are flat-footed, for example), then you may need custom-made inserts prescribed by your podiatrist for you to wear in your shoes. These inserts are called orthotics and are made over molds of your feet to protect your feet and to help them function better. If you use orthotics, put them into any shoe you try on.

Finally, ask your podiatrist if he or she can recommend a store that sells athletic shoes and a salesperson there. All shoe salespeople are not equal. The more they know about feet and fitting shoes, the better. You definitely don’t want someone who just started selling shoes for the summer to recommend shoes for you. If you can’t get the name of a specific person, ask the store manager or owner for help.

Store-ward Bound

There are stores in malls across the country that specialize in athletic shoes. You may need to visit a few to find the right store and salesperson for you. There may even be a specialty shoe store in your town that employs a pedorthist (certified shoe fitter). This shoe expert can be a big help to someone with hard-to-fit feet or special foot problems.

Now it’s Saturday morning and you’re on your way to the store. STOP! Wait for the afternoon. Many people’s feet swell as the day progresses. Try shoes on when your feet are their biggest, usually later in the day.

When you find the right shoe fitter, be sure he or she measures both feet. Your feet should be measured to the longest toe and the width checked as well. Some brands of shoes now come in widths. This is especially helpful if you have very wide or narrow feet.

So Many Choices…

Now the confusion starts. You’ll have dozens of shoes to choose from. Start by narrowing your choices by type of shoe. This will depend on your activity and at what level you’ll participate. If you’re a beginning walker, you won’t need the same type of shoe that a race walker will wear. A runner will need a different shoe than a walker.

If you plan on participating in more than one activity, you may wonder if you can use the same pair of athletic shoes for all of them. The answer depends on the specific activities and the intensity of your participation.

Some shoes, called cross-trainers, have the characteristics of a number of types of shoes. These shoes are a compromise, however, and may sacrifice some of the better points of a shoe made for just one sport. So, if you can, buy separate shoes for each sport.

Once you determine what category of shoes you’re looking for, ask about the details of the individual shoes. Each company will have an array of shoes with different characteristics. Some features are just cosmetic, but many are functional. Forget cosmetics. Colors, stripes, and heels with lights – yes, there are really shoes with heels that light up with each step – don’t count.

If you have high arches you’ll need a shoe that provides more shock absorption. High-arched feet are rigid and need this additional cushioning.

If your feet are flat, they absorb shock well but do not become the rigid levers that you need to support your body as you walk or run. In this case you may require a shoe that has more support.

Make sure there’s plenty of room for your toes. The heel counter should be rigid for support. Padding around the Achilles tendon and tongue adds protection and comfort.

Try the shoes on while wearing appropriate socks. Athletic socks take up room that you must accommodate for. These socks should have padded heels and balls for protection. They should be made of a material, such as acrylic, that wicks perspiration away from the skin.

Read the labels to find socks that wick. Dry feet will be healthier than damp feet. You will be less susceptible to fungal infections with dry skin. Fungi love to grow in moist, dark places. As a bonus you’ll find that dry feet are warmer in cold weather.

Walk around the store with the shoes on and check for comfort. If they aren’t comfortable in the store, forget those shoes. You shouldn’t have to break them in at home.

Back At The Ranch

After buying new shoes, wear them for brief periods of time at first. Examine your feet carefully when you remove your shoes. Look for red, irritated areas that might turn into blisters if the shoes are worn for longer periods.

This is even more important if you have peripheral neuropathy. This disorder of the nerves can make your feet numb so that you may not feel abnormal pressure or friction. You must use your eyes and look for problems instead of depending on pain to tell you that something is wrong. You should replace shoes more frequently than you may think. This is especially true if you run. The shock absorption of the midsole decreases rapidly. You can also buy insoles made of materials that can add shock absorption. Ask your podiatrist if you need this.

If your shoes are worn to one side, they need replacement. A tilted shoe will place a strain on your foot, ankle, knee, hip, and lower back.

How about cost? Are the top brands better? Are they worth the added expense? In general, yes. The top companies are the ones that have spent the money on research and development and have incorporated these advances into their shoes. But most people don’t need all the bells and whistles. Ask your podiatrist what you need for your feet.

Exercise is an important part of diabetes control and your choice of shoes and socks is an important part of most exercise programs. Wise choices can add comfort and enjoyment to your exercise activities. That way, your feet can stay healthy, and you can concentrate on having fun.