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When Should I Replace My Walking Shoes?

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Updated September 22, 2012

Shoes - Old and New

New Shoes - Old Shoes

Photo © Wendy Bumgardner
Question: When Should I Replace My Walking Shoes?
When should you replace your walking shoes? How do you know when your shoes have lost their cushioning and reached the end of their lifespan?
Answer: Once you find a comfortable pair of walking shoes that support your feet right, it is hard to part with them. But walking and running shoes have a limited life span. With each step, you are breaking down their cushioning and support. By 500 miles, most shoes are dead and need to be recycled or saved for non-exercise purposes.

The 500 Mile Limit = Replace Every 3 to 6 Months

The typical athletic shoe is only built to last 350 to 500 miles. While walkers are not pounding their shoes as hard as runners, you are unlikely to still get good support and cushioning past 500 miles. Your weight is also a factor -- the more you weigh, the faster your shoes will wear out. If you are walking 30 minutes a day, or an average of 3 to 4 hours a week, replace your shoes every six months. If you are walking 60 minutes a day or an average of 7 hours a week, replace your shoes every three months.

Shoes Are Aging Before You Buy Them

Athletic shoes are glued together. While in the warehouse and on the store shelf, they are already aging. The glue is drying out. The air pockets in the cushioning may be slowly dissipating. You will often find that shoes on sale are old models being discontinued. They may already be over a year old and may give you less wear before wearing out. To get the longest life from a shoe, buy the current model and question the shoe store staff about how long they have been in the store.

Shoe Care for Longer Shoe Life

  • Save your walking shoes only for exercise walks: Don't wear them all day; slip into them only for your exercise time. If you keep them on your feet, they get more wear and they have longer exposure to foot moisture and bacteria, which will break them down faster.
  • Air out your shoes between uses: Store your walking shoes where they are exposed to air so they can dry out fully between uses. A gym bag isn't the best place to let them breathe.
  • If you wash them, air dry: I do not wash my walking shoes, but if you do you should use gentle soap and cold water so you don't destroy the glue. Always air dry them rather than throwing them in a dryer. Avoid heat, as this will contribute to faster breakdown of the glue.
  • Replacing the insoles: If you prefer a custom insole, replace it each time you replace your shoes. Changing the insole is not a substitute for replacing the shoe. Cushioning insoles don't provide the same cushioning and support that the shoe itself provides. Once the shoe is broken down, you can't remedy that with an insole.

How to Know Your Shoes are Dead - Rotate Your Shoes

The best way to discover your shoes have died is to rotate your walking shoes. Start wearing a pair of walking shoes, and alternate them with a new pair of walking shoes after 1 to 2 months. When the older pair begins to break down, you will sense the difference between the newer and older pair. If you walk one or more times daily, alternating shoes allows each pair to fully dry out between uses. Take advantage of "buy one get one free" offers from shoe retailers. Buy two pairs at a time to save on gas if you are driving to a local running store, or to save on postage if you are ordering online.

Signs Your Shoes are Dead

Most people wait till their shoes look bad before replacing them. By that time they have been toast for many months. These signs of long dead shoes should prompt you to replace them immediately:

Shoe Wear Patterns

Where and how you wear down the soles and heels of your shoes can tell a shoe fit expert what kind of shoes you should buy. Bring your old shoes with you when you buy new shoes.
What Shoe Wear Patterns Tell You

Dangers of Dead Shoes

What's wrong with wearing dead shoes? They are dead because they no longer provide good support and cushioning. Lack of cushioning and support can lead to:

Recycle Your Dead Shoes

While you may want to keep one or two pairs of dead shoes around for gardening or other non-exercise tasks, you should recycle or donate your shoes rather than tossing them in the trash. Recycled shoes are used to make playground and track surfaces. Look for a shoe bin at a community recycling center or athletic shoe store. Shoes that are still in good condition may also be donated to charity clothing centers to be used for non-exercise purposes.

Source:
Michael Lowe, D.P.M., American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, web article. Last accessed 9/21/08.
John Olsen, interview, 1999.
Ted L. Forcum, DC, DACBSP, interview, 2001.

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