While bare feet only used to be seen at the beach or in the backyard, now it’s not unusual to see people going barefooted in public parks, on hiking trails, and even on city streets! Proponents of “barefooting” claim that walking barefooted is more natural and better for your feet. While these claims may seem hard to believe, they have some merit.
Your feet are very advanced tools with an elaborate structure made up of tiny bones, soft tissue, tendons, ligaments and muscles. If you are constantly wearing shoes, each of those components of your foot are locked into a certain position by your shoes. When you go barefoot, all of those parts gets to move around and strengthen your foot overall. Professional runners often spend a portion of their training without shoes and have verifiable improvements in their overall performance.
When you walk barefoot you aren’t just strengthening the physical aspects of your feet, but also improving your senses as well. All over your body are tiny sensory receptors that are responsible for sending information to your brain that measure position and movement called, proprioceptors. Over time these receptors naturally become less sensitive, but if you exercise your feet regularly, coordination will never be an issue.
Now, don’t kick off those shoes and commit to a life without them just yet. Remember, humans invented shoes for a reason. The most obvious of reasons being that we need to protect our feet from hazardous environments. Not to say that your yard is a dangerous place, but our feet are fragile. One wrong step on the smallest object can lead to skin damage and a whole host of infections.
While you may build strength in your feet without shoes, you are also without the benefits they offer. Every step you take sends a shock through your body. Without the cushion of the right footwear, these shocks can do damage to sensitive joints over time. Since the invention of shoes, our ankles and knees haven’t felt the full force of our own movement and aren’t conditioned to handle it again right away.
Beyond absorbing shock, shoes also provide us support where our feet need it. Foot structure is unique to each individual, but even those with perfect arches can benefit from having support. It can lessen and even prevent pain from common foot problems and even plantar fasciitis or heel spurs.
There are clearly good points on either side of barefoot debate, and while it may not be a lifestyle you want, or even can entertain, it does have it’s benefits. Though you should never make a decision to throw out your shoes without consulting your physician first.