QUESTION: I have a hard time buying running shoes because I have an odd-size foot. Are there some guidelines for buying shoes that would help me get a better fit? Thank you.

ANSWER: For most activities, shoes are the most important piece of equipment a person can buy. If they are the wrong size or if they don't fit well, they can cause all kinds of problems. For instance, one physician developed intense heel pain that he has related to playing too much tennis. He tried different shoe inserts and cortisone injections, but nothing seemed to work. He finally solved the problem by buying narrower shoes that fit his feet properly.I liked the shoe-buying guidelines by Dr. Marvin Bloom in the December Running & FitNews and will review them for you below:

1. Try on both shoes in the store. Walk and jog around the store for a few minutes; climb up and down stairs, too, if possible.

2. Stand on a sheet of paper and trace the outline of each foot. Superimpose your drawings on the soles of the shoes you try to see if the size and curvature are a good match. The lasts used by some companies to make their shoes may be a better fit for your foot than those from other companies.

3. Look at the shoe to see if it is well-made. When sitting on a flat surface at eye level, the midline of the heel counter should be perpendicular to the surface. Check the quality of stitching, eyelets and laces. Make sure the sole layers are evenly and completely glued to each other. Look for lumps and bumps inside the shoe.

4. Be sure the sole flexes where your foot flexes. Buy shoes with removable insoles so that you can modify or replace them with orthotic inserts if necessary.

5. Check the length. Allow a half-inch in front of your longest toe when you stand up. Fit shoes in the afternoon or after a workout. Feet can swell as much as a full size during a good workout.

6. There should be room in the toe box for your toes to move around. The midpart of the shoe when laced should hold your foot snugly so that it doesn't slide forward.

7. The heel counter should fit snugly so your heel doesn't slip and rub. The lacing area and tongue should be padded and comfortable at midfoot.

8. Be sure the shoe is comfortable in the store. Don't rely on a break-in period. Comfort and fit are more important than price and brand name.- Healthful lifestyle goals (a continuation of last week's column, where I promised to give you a few small changes to make each week in your lifestyle):

- Exercise. Increase your exercise duration to about 121/2 minutes a day. Begin doing five abdominal curls a day. From a supine position with your knees bent and your arms by your side, slowly curl your shoulders and head off the floor, hold, and return to the floor.

- Diet changes. Starting this week, try eating your bread without butter. Good luck!