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Which Shoes Are Healthiest?

If you look at the feet of newborn and young children, you'll notice that across all races, feet tend to be wide, almost like bear paws without claws.

The forefoot (toe region) evolved to be wide to allow for optimal gripping action as humans walked across varying terrains.

Contrast the natural design of our feet with modern day shoes. Even walking and running shoes that are designed with maximum comfort in mind mostly come with pointed toe boxes, causing the naturally wide forefoot to be squished during activities of daily living. The compression is far worse with most dress shoes, including high heels.

Over many years, walking in footwear that squishes our toes together leads to a number of undesirable changes throughout the kinetic chain that is our body, from bunions, plantar fasciitis, and pain in our knees, hips, and spine. I've encountered many instances where a person's intermittent tension headaches were ultimately resolved by switching out high heels for footwear that better supported human movement.

Healthy shoes should have a wide toe box to allow for our toes to naturally splay up and out from our midfoot region.

In my experience, most shoes that have a wide toe box don't come with sufficient cushion for most age groups and activities. While in theory, it makes sense to have our feet as close to the terrain we're walking on as possible, few of us have grown up in this way, so to make the switch to footwear that has very little protective cushioning can lead to other issues, especially for those who are older.

When looking for healthy footwear, I suggest prioritizing a wide toe box and sufficient cushioning for each person's typical activities of daily living. Shoes that meet these criteria are usually marketed as "wide toe box running shoes."

An example for men:

An example for women:

An example for men in Canada:

An example for women in Canada:

Clogs tend to have a wide toe box, so for those who like clog-type shoes, they would be another good option for simple everyday activities such as running errands or doing yard work.

Some popular brands like Asics, New Balance, and Skechers come with wide versions with ample cushioning, but when considering such shoes, be sure that the toe box region is sufficiently wide to allow for optimal toe mobility with no squishing of the forefoot while walking.

To further support optimal foot health, I also suggest regularly taking the toes through some simple mobility work to preserve their natural range of movement and function, as shown in this short video:

Wearing healthy footwear and working on foot and toe mobility naturally leads to better balance and agility, which reduces our risk of experiencing accidental falls and injuries.

Don't forget to take a good look at the feet and toes of babies and toddlers whenever you have a chance - they serve as beautiful reminders of our natural design.


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