Do toning shoes work?

My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week is about toning shoes and whether the claims made by the shoe manufacturers can be believed. Based on research that I presented, and that presented by others, at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting last week in San Francisco, the answer is no!

Claims that toning shoes cause you to burn more calories and promote weight loss were not supported by my own study and another similar study, both of which showed no meaningful difference in calories burned wearing toning shoes compared to regular shoes.

Similarly, the claims that toning shoes can strengthen and tone muscles in the legs were not supported by several studies that showed no real difference in muscle activation while walking or standing in the toning shoes. (abstracts from these presentations are available here)

This research is in accordance with a previous study that showed that toning shoes do not cause changes in muscle activation or in the energy expended during walking.

My study did show that people tended to walk more and eat fewer calories on days when they were wearing toning shoes compared to days when they wore their regular shoes. It seems as if wearing the toning shoes encouraged people to make healthier activity and dietary choices. This study only lasted two weeks, so we don’t know if this represented a lasting change or not. But if these changes were maintained, they could lead to weight loss in the long run.

The bottom line is that wearing toning shoes isn’t the answer to weight loss or toned muscles as the shoe companies suggest. But if wearing them makes you walk more–most subjects report that walking in them is very comfortable–then it won’t hurt.

It seems like the shoe companies and the public are getting this message. The sales of toning shoes dropped from $1.1 billion in 2010 to $550 million in 2011. And two shoe companies recently paid a combined $65 million to settle consumer complaints about their effectiveness. (You can read more about this here)

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