Tuesday, July 19, 2011 Post By: Grayne Wetzky
I love walking barefoot. I will kick off my shoes as soon as I have a chance. The feeling of walking barefoot in cool grass is unbeatable. Maybe it's because I grew up in a country where walking barefoot is more common, but I have none of the aversion to bare feet as many Americans seem to have.
If walking barefoot was only a matter of comfort, I doubt the barefoot movement would have taken off the way it has. There's more to kicking off your shoes than just feeling good. Walking barefoot actually has a number of important health benefits.
First of all, some people seem to think that shoes are needed either for protection of the foot or for hygienic reasons. Both of these assumptions are false. First of all, our feet don't need a shoe for protection. We evolved fantastically complex feet over millions of years without even thinking about wearing shoes. If you start walking barefoot more, you will soon develop thicker skin under your feet that give the foot plenty of protection.
Equally wrong is the notion that bare feet are unhygienic. Sure, your feet gets dirt if you walk outside, but our hands get just as dirty and are much more likely to touch your mouth than your feet. Most people wash their hands several times a day, there's no reason why you can't wash your feet as well.
In fact, wearing shoes is probably a lot dirtier than going barefoot. Shoes trap moisture from the foot and provides a dark and damp environment. The kind of environment that fungi and bacteria thrive in. Add to that the fact that people don't wash their shoes very often and you see why wearing shoes can be the perfect incubator for germs.
But so much for misconceptions about going barefoot, lets get to the real benefits of a naked foot.
The number one benefit of walking or running barefoot is that it strengthens the muscles in the feet, calves, thighs and even hips. With the unnatural support given by shoes, the muscles in our lower body lose strength as they are not used. This leads to a number of potentially damaging factors.
Poorly developed muscles in the feet can lead to bad posture, which again is a major factor in developing back problems. Strengthening the muscles in the feet and legs leads to better agility, and better flexibility in the hips. Overall improved mobility will improve physical performance and reduce the risk of injuries.
Reduced injury risk is in itself a major benefit of going barefoot. With thick soled shoes we loose vital information about the positioning of the foot related to the surface. This again leads to sprains and 'rolling over' on the ankle and similar injuries caused by missteps.
A more subtle injury is that when wearing shoes, most people tend to land on the wrong part of the foot when walking or running. People typically use a very long stride that forces you to land on the heel. This is not the natural landing position for the foot and it can not absorb the impact as effectively, causing damage especially to the knees and hips.
If you try walking or running barefoot you will immediately feel how unnatural it is to land on the heel. When we walk barefoot like nature intended us to we automatically shorten our strides and land on the ball of the foot.
Proper use of the muscles in the legs also helps your circulation. Ample barefoot movement is a great way to help the blood flow in your legs and feet.
Finally, there are mental benefits of going barefoot. One of the most immediate changes people notice when they start going barefoot is a heightened awareness of their environment. The sole of our feet provide sensory feedback about the surface we walk on that is completely lost when wearing shoes. When you are barefoot there are distinct differences between walking on concrete and asphalt for example, not to mention walking in sand or grass or even mud.
This additional sensory information not only helps us walk properly, but it adds another dimension of awareness. The world becomes more three dimensional when what you see is complemented by how the environment feels.
If you like to go barefoot I would love to hear what you like most about it.