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9 Footwear Do's and Don'ts

Our poor feet. They withstand lots of abuse, quickly carrying us to last-minute outings, pounding the pavement on mind-clearing runs, and being squeezed into impractical (but fashionable) shoes. But we need to take care of them to avoid foot pain, injury, and other ailments. So do your tootsies a favor and follow these healthy tips.

Don't wear high heels for too long. We've all been there: out on the town in an amazing pair of pumps ... with achy feet and knees. A 2010 study found that over time, wearing heels higher than 2 inches can put you at risk for joint degeneration and knee osteoarthritis, and a new study finds that high heels are a leading cause of ingrown toenails, which can lead to infection and permanent nail damage. But we're not telling you to stop wearing heels--that's unrealistic. "I wouldn't recommend walking miles in heels, but a comfortable heel can be worn to work all day if it has the right features and/or orthotic," says Michele Summers, a California-based podiatrist and shoe designer. (You can pick up arch-support inserts at drug stores.) Try saving your sky-high heels for short-lived occasions like dinners, says John Brummer, a New York City-based podiatrist.

[See: 6 Surprising Behaviors That Age You]

Don't wear flip-flops everywhere. They're easy, and as temperatures heat up, you're likely to slip them on often. Cool it, say experts. "Flip-flops give your foot basically no support, and the constant rubbing of the thong between the toes can cause a friction blister," says Summers. Not to mention they make stubbed toes, cuts, and sprained ankles more likely, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). Limit flip-flops to settings like the beach or the pool. And when you do wear them, invest in a supportive leather pair, or a pair that carries the APMA seal of acceptance, the association advises. (If you have diabetes, you should never wear flip-flops, since the disease can dull your sense of pain, allowing minor wounds to become major problems--infected, for example--without your knowledge.)

Do exercise in shoes designed for your sport. It's "extremely important" to find gym shoes designed for your sport of choice because they'll accommodate the actions needed for the specific activity, says Brummer. If you're a runner, consider going a step further with a professional fitting, since your gait and range of motion affect the shoe you need, advises the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. For example, overpronators--runners whose feet rotate too far inward--are steered toward shoes that offer more support.

[See: 7 Mind-Blowing Benefits of Exercise]

Don't wear the same shoes every day. It's tempting to always throw on your trusty flats. But alternating shoes can help keep your feet limber, says Summers. Plus it's good to air out shoes every other day to avoid bad smells. (Your significant other will thank you.)

Don't wear hand-me-downs. Reconsider those thrift-store sandals. "Each foot imprints a different wear pattern into the shoe," says Summers, so a used pair may not be the best fit.

Do discard worn-out shoes. Speaking of old shoes, it might be time to pitch yours. (Sniff.) If the sole is worn down more on one side than the other or is separating, let the pair go, says Summers. And replace athletic shoes that are beyond their shelf life; running shoes can last about 300 to 500 miles before causing problems, depending on the athlete, Brummer says.

Do change out of sweaty footwear. Fungal infections aren't just a consequence of barefoot showering at the gym. (By the way, don't do that.) You could get athlete's foot if you hang out in damp hosiery. Change your shoes and socks regularly, wash your feet daily, and dry your feet thoroughly to help prevent infection, advises the APMA.

Do have your feet measured. It's not your imagination: Your shoes may no longer fit. "Our shoe size can change from anything such as weight gain, hormonal activity, circulation disorders, or simple aging," says Brummer. "It is best to try on shoes at the end of the day when your feet are most swollen." You should have your feet measured at least once a year, especially if you're an older adult, adds Summers. (If you have diabetes, you should also see a podiatrist at least twice a year, Brummer says.)

Don't buy shoes that hurt. Sorry to break it to you, but you're probably not going to break in those painful shoes. "A shoe should feel comfortable when you try it on in the store," says Summers. "If it feels too tight in the store, it will be too tight at home and may even feel worse after being worn for a little while." That said, shoes can be stretched and modified for certain foot deformities such as bunions and hammertoes, says Brummer. Use good judgment--and walk away if you have any doubts. Your (happy) feet will thank you later.

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