Globe Editorial

Toning shoes: Or try exercising in regular ones

July 26, 2010

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Get-fit-quick schemes are a lot like get-rich-quick schemes: They’re usually too good to be true, especially when they’re making money for someone else. That seems a decent analysis of the current footwear trend known as the “toning shoe,’’ which is helping to boost sneaker sales for New Balance and other companies. The shoes are built with imbalanced soles, and purport to require the use of more muscles, in different parts of the body, than ordinary shoes. And the breathless marketing suggests — with the requisite disclaimers — that these shoes, which often sell for $100 or more a pair, can help people get fit and lose weight without bothering to exercise at all.

It’s a neat trick, getting people to buy sneakers that look like orthopedic shoes and make you feel like you’re walking on an inflatable raft. And if the shoes give people a new incentive to take the stairs instead of the elevator, that can’t be all bad. But scientists and podiatrists are already raising questions about whether toning shoes do all they promise, and whether they cause unnecessary pain. At any rate, fitness-minded buyers should have realistic expectations. Fads in dieting, equipment, and footwear come and go, but the old standby of moderate exercise, a few times a week, seldom fails.