As discussed in the last post, there is a lot of controversy about barefoot walking and running. There is no question, however, that some people really enjoy it and feel that they have seen a number of benefits. Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of being barefoot.
1) Increased sensory input. Most of us have become so accustomed to having something on our feet that we don’t realize how much shoes deaden the information that we are receiving from the world around us. How stable is the surface where we are standing? How much friction do we have?
2) Increased foot mobility. There are 26 bones and 33 joints in the foot, but most of the time when our feet are in shoes, we are only moving one joint (the ankle) up and down, and the rest are held stable in the shoe. This means that we are not using a lot of the muscles in the foot and lower leg and that there is decreased blood flow to the area. When walking barefoot, the foot is allowed to conform to the various shapes underneath the foot, leading to increased movement in the joints and use of the muscles. This article talks about how the muscle mass in the feet and legs increased when people used minimal shoes (compared to their previous use of conventional shoes).
3) Improved awareness. Many times in our very busy world, we are trying to do several things at once. We are not very aware at times of the things going on around us. Being barefoot does require a person to pay more attention to where and how they are stepping.
4) Grounding. This is an interesting one. The earth’s surface is electrically charged, and when we are in direct contact with the ground, we get the benefits of these electrons, neutralizing free radicals in our bodies. (Here, here, and here are some articles that discuss this in greater detail.)
5) Being barefoot encourages better gait mechanics. Some of the biggest things people do wrong with walking and running is hitting the ground to hard with their heels. In walking, the heel should contact the ground first, but in a light and controlled motion. In running, the forefoot should strike the ground first. Cushioning in the heels of conventional shoes allows us to impact with our heels instead. We are a lot less likely to come crashing down on our heels when there is little to no cushioning there. (This article takes a look at the differences in injury rates between runners that habitually forefoot strike and those that rearfoot strike, regardless of the shoes they were wearing.)
These are just a few of the benefits of being more barefoot in how we move. However, before you ditch your shoes or go out to buy all new minimal shoes, we need to discuss the problems of going barefoot.