How Your Walking Shoe Needs Change As You Age

Attractive Senior Man Jogging

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The features you need in a walking shoe can change as you get older. The shoes you have used for years when walking for health and fitness may need to be traded for those that will serve you better.

Learn about the changes that happen as you age and the shoes that can keep you walking for years to come.

Changes to Your Feet as You Age

Your feet will change in shape and size through the years, and your needs in footwear will vary due to common conditions.

  • Foot widening and lengthening: It is normal for your feet to become wider, longer, and flatter as the ligaments and tendons lose strength and elasticity. Injuries to them accumulate. It is normal to see your shoe size increase by a half size or more.
  • Foot swelling: You may experience foot and ankle swelling due to circulation problems or the effects of medication and health conditions. You may need a larger pair of shoes for the days when you have more swelling. If you wear compression socks, you need to ensure your footwear can accommodate them without being too tight.
  • Thinning natural cushioning: You also lose the fat pad that cushions the bottom of your foot. You may notice discomfort and fatigue more and more as this natural padding is lost. Cushioned shoes or insoles can help.
  • Skin changes: Dry skin as you age can lead to calluses, and you may get cracked skin on your heels.
  • Worsening foot conditions: Bunions, hammertoes, and other foot conditions can develop or worsen as you age. You may experience the long-term effects of wearing shoes with pointed toes and elevated heels.
  • Gait changes: Arthritis, neuropathy, and other conditions can change your gait, slowing your overall walking speed and sometimes resulting in a limp. This can result in placing pressure on different areas of the foot, leading to discomfort. Gait changes often develop after age 70 and are seen in the majority of people over age 80.
  • Bone density loss: Thinning bones, including foot bones, are more at risk of fracture.
  • Difficulty with foot care: You may lose flexibility as you age and have difficulty bending over or crossing your legs. If you can't reach your feet easily, putting on your socks and shoes becomes a challenge. You may need a non-laced shoe and/or assistive devices such as a sock aid. You may not be able to trim your toenails or wash and dry your feet.
  • Foot problems due to diabetes: More than one in four people have diabetes after age 65. This often results in loss of blood circulation and sensation in the feet. You will need to ensure your shoes fit well and do not rub and cause blisters, leading to infection.
  • Balance issues: As you age, your ability to balance and correct yourself if you slip or trip is reduced. You may be on medication that can make you dizzy as well. You will need shoes that have non-slip soles and enough structure for good support, including those with high collars.

Walking Shoes for Active Older Adults

If you enjoy walks for health and fitness, athletic walking or running shoes are the best choices. To ensure you are getting the right kind of shoes and fitted correctly, visit a specialty running shoe store in your area. They don't just serve young competitive runners. They have many long-time customers who look just like you and have similar needs.

Your feet will be measured, and they will assess your gait to see whether you might benefit from motion control shoes or stability shoes. These kinds of stores may also be able to make heat-molded insoles that will give your foot good support.

While walking shoes may work, don't be surprised if they recommend a running shoe instead. Running shoes lead the way in using lightweight cushioning and the latest technology. Athletic shoes also have a padded heel collar, which can reduce rubbing in that area. Many are made with seamless uppers to reduce areas of friction.

Look for athletic shoes that have a more rounded toe box and come in multiple widths. New Balance is a brand that has long been known for both. They have a few walking styles with hook-and-loop closure, if you prefer. Many models of Brooks also come in widths, and they are known for their motion control shoes.

Ask the salesperson to help you lace the shoes to get a good fit. You want to ensure they are not too tight over the forefoot but can be tightened at the ankle, so your heel stays in the heel cup. There are lacing tricks that will help.

Shoes are essential but don't skimp on getting good socks. Look for sweat-wicking, anatomically shaped socks that can reduce your risk of developing blisters. A running store is a good source for these.

Always shop for shoes later in the day when your feet may be a little more swollen. Wear the socks you plan to wear with the new shoes so you can ensure you get a correct fit.

Shoes for Everyday Walking

You may want to visit a specialty foot and ankle store to get recommendations for inserts, shoes, and shoe modifications. If you have significant foot pain or gait difficulties, discuss these with your doctor or podiatrist for a full assessment. Supportive and cushioning insoles can give you greater comfort, or you may need a prescription orthotic.

For shoes, you can wear when shopping, socializing, or around the house, there are brands and sources of designs that are useful for older people:

  • Propét is a brand with various shoe designs that include hook-and-loop tab closures rather than laces, extended widths, and other features you may need. They have a range of styles, including athletic shoes, dress shoes, boots, sandals, and slippers. Many of their styles are rated as Medicare-approved diabetic shoes.
  • New Balance makes several models with hook-and-loop closure rather than laces. Some are Medicare-approved as diabetic shoes, and some come in extra wide. These shoes have leather construction and come in colors such as black, white, and tan.
  • Silverts sells adaptive clothing and footwear from various manufacturers that can address needs such as very wide-fitting shoes, shoes with added depth to accommodate orthotics, shoes that are adjustable for foot swelling, and shoes with anti-slip soles.

Footwear to Avoid

These types of footwear may contribute to problems as you age. Wear them infrequently or with caution:

  • Pointy-toed boots or shoes: If you love your cowboy boots, it can be tough to give them up. But pointy-toed shoes and boots constrict your toes and can rub and cause sores. Look for square-toed or round-toed versions that give your toes wiggle room.
  • Shoes with heels taller than 2 1/4 inches: An elevated heel raises your risk of turning your ankle. This is true for wider heels as well as narrow ones.
  • Slick-soled shoes: You need to reduce the chances of slipping and falling. Look for non-slip soles on all of your footwear.
  • Low-back or backless clogs, sandals, or flip-flops: You risk walking right out of these types of shoes on an incline, and you can't get a good walking motion while wearing them. Look for styles that have a comfortable, padded backstrap. Avoid any sandals that give you hot spots or blisters where the straps rub.
  • Flimsy shoes: You need more structure to cushion and support your foot as you age. Even the slippers you wear around the house should have a firm sole.
  • Rocker-soled shoes: This type of shoe is not recommended if you have any difficulties with balance or your gait is not steady.
  • Old, worn-out shoes: Shoes lose their support and cushioning as they age. You need to check your shoes and get new ones when you see wear on the sole, upper, or inside.

A Word From Verywell

Maintaining an active lifestyle is vital for your health and independence as you age. Sometimes that will mean switching to shoes that don't match your usual style. Understanding what to look for in shoes can help you make the best selection.

Be aware that any shoes should feel right as soon as you put them on, without a break-in period. Treat your feet to the right shoes so you can keep walking.

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pirker W, Katzenschlager R. Gait disorders in adults and the elderly : A clinical guideWien Klin Wochenschr. 2017;129(3-4):81–95. doi:10.1007/s00508-016-1096-4

  2. American Diabetes Association. Statistics about diabetes.

Additional Reading

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.