Walking barefoot on the beach is something people dream of while sitting behind their desks at work. And if we get the chance to actually do it, most of us would do it in a heartbeat. If you love to sink your bare feet into the raw earth, weather it’s on the beach or in the grass, researchers are now saying that it may be just as good for your body as it is your spirit.
Scientists have revealed that walking, and even running barefoot may be superior to doing these activities wearing shoes. In one study, researchers reported that when comparing the feet of 180 people from three different population groups (Sotho, Zulu, and European) to the feet of 2,000-year-old skeletons, the ancient people had healthier feet.1
Sure, it’s now a tradition in our modern culture to wear shoes. But according to researchers, it may benefit your feet (and the rest of your body) to go barefoot in your downtime. Still wondering if going bare is for you?
Here is a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of each option:
Pros of Walking Barefoot
You Get Back in Touch
Getting close to Mother Nature is one of the best ways to get back in touch with your own body. It is also the number one way to feel more grounded. So, take time to kick off your shoes and sink your bare feet into the Earth.
Taking a walk without your shoes helps you to feel more of the ground below you, deepening the connection you have to your body, and yourself. That can be difficult if you work a full-time job, especially if you are in an office. Feel free to stroll anywhere you can feel the Earth below you in bare feet. It can help you reconnect with the most important person on the planet: You.
You Get Stronger
When you walk or run in shoes, your feet are protected (which is good), but when you go shoeless, all of the tiny bones in your feet, as well as the soft tissues of your foot muscles, tendons, and ligaments get to move. This strengthens those areas, and also results in stronger feet overall, which may improve your gait, balance and even running performance.
One study showed that subjects who performed a barefoot running test reported less stress during steps, as well as improvements in braking and pushing impulses, in addition to a higher activation of calf muscles.2
You May Suffer Fewer Injuries
When you take a walk without your shoes, you are able to develop muscles in your feet, ankles, legs, and even hips that are responsible for your coordination. Additionally, you also strengthen proprioceptors – the tiny sensory receptors on the nerve endings in these areas. These receptors send information to your brain about your body motion, force, tension, and overall positioning of your body.
In strengthening these areas, you may also notice fewer walking or running injuries.
Cons of Being Barefoot
When you take your shoes off, you instantly remove all of the padding and arch support from your feet. This can be risky for some, as it increases the amount of shock applied to joints of the ankles and knees, as well as pressure on your tendons. Remember that when you walk or run without your shoes on that you will experience more shock on these areas, and if you have any previous injuries, this may be a big no-no for you.
However, for some, walking barefoot may help reduce shock. In one study with participants suffering from knee osteoarthritis, walking barefoot actually decreased loading on the joints of the lower extremities.3
One thing about wearing shoes when you walk or run outdoors is that they protect your feet. You already know that, of course, but what you may not be thinking of are all of the pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and funguses that you may come in contact with. And there are plenty of them!
Just remember, if you do decide to take your barefoot walk outside, to clean your feet immediately after returning home. If you want to take precautions to protect yourself from infections, add a few drops of antimicrobial tea tree oil to the soles of your feet to reduce your risk.
The skin on your feet is thicker and tougher than in other areas of your body. And, for this reason, you may assume that the soles of your feet are durable enough to stand up to the elements outside. However, you may be wrong. The plantar surface of your feet (the area on the bottom of your feet) is soft and tender beneath the tough soles that you can see. If you happen to step on something the wrong way while barefoot, you may suffer plantar pain and increase the risk of persistent heel pain (plantar fasciitis), as well as blisters, cuts, and other abrasions.
To wear shoes, or to go barefoot? That is the question, and while there is some science to back up both sides of the argument, the bottom line is this: going barefoot has many benefits, but, if you’re not already walking barefoot, start slowly and be careful. And always remember to alternate between walking with shoes, and without.
Read on for more tips to strengthen your feet:
1. C. Divert, G. Mornieux, H. Baur, F. Mayer, A. Belli. Mechanical comparison of barefoot and shod running. International Journal of Sports Medicine (2005). Volume: 26, Issue: 7, Pages: 593-598.
2. Shakoor N, Block JA. Walking barefoot decreases loading on the lower extremity joints in knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2006 Sep;54(9):2923-7.
3. B. Zipfel, B. Zipfel. Shod versus unshod: The emergence of forefoot pathology in modern humans? December 2007 Volume 17, Issue 4, Pages 205–213