An age-old debate rages on and Medical Daily has found someone with an answer: Is wearing sneakers better for your posture than wearing other types of shoes?

“Absolutely,” says Spencer Weisbond, a board-certified pedorthist and owner of Orthotic Solutions in New York City, explaining a sneaker can control the foot motions that lead to poor posture.

“Put a good pair of sneakers on someone with poor posture and you’ll see it immediately,” he says.

According to Weisbond, sneakers are designed for repetitive impact sports that have a higher ground force than regular walking. Wearing them, our feet land as they should and our muscles are used more efficiently. Sneakers help to “propel each footstep seamlessly into the next,” Weisbond says, and though footwear in general is designed for all of the same, sneakers do it better — “just as a speedboat is better than a rowboat.”

A somewhat alternative view is posed by Dr. Daniel Lieberman, a professor of biological sciences at Harvard, who spent his career investigating why the human body looks and functions the way it does. In particular, he has studied the biomechanics of running and compared barefoot runners from Kenya with American runners who normally run in modern running shoes. “Most experienced, habitually barefoot runners tend to avoid landing on the heel and instead land with a forefoot or midfoot strike,” he and his co-authors wrote on a website devoted to the subject. By contrast, running shoes promote a heel foot strike, which produces greater impact than landing on the forefoot.

Weisbond, who has spent his career studying feet and how they move, says the naked foot runners live in parts of the world lacking shoes and concrete and so the muscles of their feet have evolved differently.

“My teacher once said to me, ‘The foot does not act, the foot only reacts in a predictable fashion,’” he explains. In America, the average “overweight weekend warrior” will not be able to retrain and strengthen the muscles of his or her feet without a considerable amount of time and practice. Though skeptical of most people’s willingness to devote the necessary time, “I’m not poo-pooing the idea,” he adds.

“You can control the way you stand or walk when you think about it, but it’s impossible to do that all the time,” he says.

Ultimately, we need our shoes, but not just any ol’ clodhoppers, says Weisbond. We need good, well-designed footwear fitted out with a proper insole to walk properly, helping us remain injury- and pain-free, which in turn contributes to good posture.

On this point, Weisbond has support from the scientific community.

A 2011 study, supported by the Institute for Aging Research, suggests foot orthotics and footwear may play a “significant role” in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis of the hip, knee, and foot. According to the authors, nearly a quarter of all American adults have foot ailments, often related to shoes and footwear. “Biomechanical evidence indicates that foot orthotics and specialized footwear may change muscle activation and gait patterns to reduce [the force put on our weight-bearing joints],” the authors conclude. 

“People come to me from their knee doctors who tell them they need an orthotic,” Weisbond says, confiding he “puts old ladies into sneakers” all the time. “They laugh, but it works.”