Experts Share Tips for Walking as a Heart-Healthy Exercise and Having the Right Pair of Shoes

As I was taking a walk in my suburban New Jersey neighborhood the other day, a fellow walker waved from across the street, then said he had a question for me.

If April showers bring May flowers, he asked, what do May flowers bring? His reply — Pilgrims, of course.

As spring rolls around, outdoor activities such as walking are a fun and affordable way to exercise. According to America Walks, a nonprofit national organization that advocates for safe, equitable, accessible and enjoyable places to walk and move, fewer than 50% of Americans meet the minimum guidelines for moderate physical activity, and walking is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to help get and stay fit.

Juliet Kaska, a celebrity fitness expert and member of Vionic’s Innovation Lab, notes walking is essential for brain, body and immune health, while a brisk walk can help strengthen the function of the heart and lungs. It’s also a great way, she said, to clear the mind and help reduce stress.

To help her stay in shape and also have some fun with her girlfriends, Kaska has launched a weekly “Walk & Talk” virtual walk through Zoom on a cell phone, which she compares to a happy hour minus the alcohol. “We’re out walking instead of on the couch,” she said. They talk dating, kids, marriage, the future and share books and TV show recommendations. “It’s great and it gets us all out of our house,” she said.

Before setting out on a walking regimen, it’s essential to have the right pair of shoes to fit your fitness program and budget. Here, Colin Ingram, director of product for Hoka One One, offers some shopping tips.

The Right Support

Cushioning and overall support are critical, he advises “The amount of cushion is largely a matter of personal preference,” said Ingram. “Some people prefer a very cushioned, pillowy feel underfoot for long walks or days on their feet, while others prefer to have closer contact to the ground.”

Next, consider a shoe that’s stable when starting out. “This can be accomplished through a wider base and outsole, or having the foot sit low inside the shoe, like a race car driver in a bucket seat.”

Gaining Traction

Walking surfaces also figure into a purchasing decision. If walking primarily on paved surfaces or treadmills, [outsole] traction should not be a big priority, but rather durability. According to Ingram, “Firmer rubber compounds on the outsole can keep the shoe from scuffing and wearing down too quickly; however, they also add weight, so you will want to find the balance between lightweight and durable that best meets your needs.”

For those walking or hiking on dirt trails, some additional traction may be worth considering, particularly if walking up and down hills. “Unless you’re on extremely technical and challenging terrain, even some light traction — say, small lugs on an all-terrain shoe — should do the trick.” suggests Ingram. “If you will be almost exclusively hiking on more rugged terrain, footwear with additional features such as aggressive traction or even ankle support in the form of hiking boots may be your best option.”

Flex, Function Fit

Shoe flexibility is also important for achieving both comfort and performance. While some degree of flexibility is needed in a to allow the foot to move and absorb shock, a shoe that’s too rigid could be painful. “You want a midsole that’s stiff enough to keep your feet from straining, but that’s flexible enough to allow some natural movement,” noted Ingram.

Lastly, while Ingram advises its best to visit a specialty retailer who can provide an expert fit, when buying online carefully evaluate a shoe’s features in order to find the best match to meet your needs. Website reviews can be helpful in discerning customers’ experience with the shoe and whether it might be what you’re looking for. In addition, many websites offer feature live chats with customer service representatives to answer any questions and make suggestions.

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