By Kim Robson:
The human foot is a complex marvel of engineering. Designed by evolution over hundreds of thousands of years, its 28 bones absorb enormous impact throughout our lives. So why are we so quick to put shoes on them?
Going barefoot produces a lighter, more natural stride in the body. People used to walking barefoot tend to land with the forefoot or mid-foot, allowing for a more rocking motion of the foot, eliminating a hard heel strike, and generating much less collision force in the foot and lower leg. With less impact and joint torque, barefooting reawakens foot muscles that have atrophied from a lifetime of wearing shoes. The result is a stronger body with less joint pain, better posture, more mobility, greater health and greater freedom. Some other benefits follow.
Going barefoot reawakens the vestibular (balance) system of the brain, stimulating new neural connections and remapping the mind for greater balance. This is very important for seniors, as one fall (perhaps hip fracture) can lead to greater health issues.
Walking barefoot leads to much greater strength in the feet, legs and core. For the best workout, walk a few miles barefoot at the beach in the soft sand.
Your feet will be healthier. Going barefoot makes plantar fasciitis, fallen arches, varicose veins, foot neuromas, bunions, corns, calluses, and hammertoes diminish or disappear. (Greater foot strength, flexibility, and blood circulation is a tremendous benefit to diabetics.
Walking barefoot creates a healthier, more natural posture. Most shoes have a heel between ½ to 2 or more inches high. To stay upright, we’re forced to tilt the pelvis back and bend forward at the waist, straining our hamstrings, lower back, upper back, shoulders and neck. It also puts undue force on the hips, knees and feet. Once out of shoes, we run, walk and stand with better posture, more like a dancer’s or a model’s. Better posture means looking better and standing taller, and also greatly reduces stress and strain on the body.
Before shoes were invented, humans had much healthier feet. Young children who wear shoes are three times more likely to develop flat feet, which suggests that wearing shoes in early childhood can permanently change the development of the longitudinal arch of the foot. Children who habitually go barefoot develop stronger feet with better flexibility and mobility, and fewer deformities like flat feet or inwardly curving toes.
The American Podiatric Medical Association now recommends keeping kids out of shoes for as long as possible because shoes weaken and deform feet. According to Dr. Merzenich, a respected neuroplastician, barefoot stimulation helps improve memory, focus, concentration, and overall intelligence. Keep kids out of shoes for as long possible and as much as possible. Feeling the ground strengthens their senses and maps the brain.
Going barefoot has been shown in studies to reduce blood pressure, stress and inflammation in the body. It also stimulates pressure points in the feet, boosting the immune system.
Some of the many barefoot sports people play include running, hiking, wrestling, dancing, water skiing, beach volleyball, gymnastics, football placekicking, and martial arts. I used to be a figure skater. Skaters’ feet and ankles are protected by a quarter inch of stiff leather. I always wore nothing but nylon knee-high stockings inside them so I could feel and grip the inside of the boots with my feet. Later, when I joined the track team, I went through a period of excruciating ankle pain because they’d become so weak from skating. Eventually my ankles strengthened and the pain went away on its own.
Going barefoot doesn’t come without some risks. Possible problems can include cuts, abrasions, bruises, or puncture wounds from glass, nails, rocks or thorns, as well as poisonous plants, insect bites or parasites that can enter the body through an open wound. There are folks who espouse going barefoot everywhere at all times for the energetic connection with the earth. This seems somewhat extreme to me. Take a stroll through the grass in the park but not across the hot, sharp-object-strewn asphalt parking lot. I go barefoot or wear socks without shoes at all times when home. AND — it’s perfectly legal to drive while barefoot. When I do wear shoes, I prefer soft-sided, thin-soled espadrilles like Toms or Lands End Gatas.
For more information, check out The Society For Barefoot Living.