BY: ERIC CARRELL
Shoes have become an essential part of our lives, providing their cushioning, supportive, warm and stylish bliss. They are so important that we rarely question their need, importance or any health benefits we might be missing out on by continuously wearing them.
Walking barefoot can be extremely relaxing and simultaneously stimulating; it can have a lot of health benefits and many groups of people are recognizing this. Going barefoot has become an intrinsic part of the lives of people enjoying natural lifestyles, athletes and everyone seeking escape and simplicity. Here are just a few benefits of a barefoot lifestyle.
- Natural feet massage
Let’s start with the most pleasant on the list. Walking barefoot can be a terrific foot massage, and who doesn’t love that. Whether it’s collapsing soft sands or cool stones, natural textures can be bliss to your feet. Don’t be afraid of some rougher surfaces too.
- Strengthens structures in your feet, ankles and calves
The majority of the shoes these days are highly cushioned and supportive, which results in reduced engagement of the fine muscles and connective tissue in your lower legs. Walking barefoot allows a more natural foot movement and a better distribution of forces across your toes, feet, ankles and calves. This strengthens those fine structures and your lower legs in general. This is highly valuable for anyone and can be essential for some athletes in order to avoid injuries.
- Results in better alignment of joints
Our body structures are all extremely connected and any issues in one of the structures will eventually lead to a connecting defect elsewhere. Walking barefoot has exceptional benefits to your gait, as it allows the best alignment between your ankles, knees and hips. This is exceptionally important for people who walk and run a lot – better alignment can help prevent lower leg injuries and engage more major muscle groups.
- Strengthens your feet arches
Due to inbuilt foot support in your shoes, your feet become “lazy” and the strength of supportive structures diminishes. Walking barefoot will help you strengthen your foot arches, preventing injuries, foot and knee pain.
- Good for foot skin
As much as walking barefoot will probably thicken the skin of your feet (depending on the surfaces you will be walking on), it also helps to avoid calluses by naturally exfoliating the skin of your feet and getting rid of the dead cells. Surprisingly enough, people who go barefoot have exceptionally smooth feet.
- Brings awareness to your gait and posture
Walking on uneven surfaces requires higher levels of awareness and step-precision, which ultimately results in better gait and posture. I’m sure I don’t need to lecture you on the health benefits of a good posture. If you are a runner, not wearing running shoes or wearing minimalist footwear will encourage better technique and running form.
- Engages your mind
Have you ever heard of the meditative concept “mindfulness”? The core of this philosophy is being aware of one’s environment and the present moment. See your feet as just another connecting point to your environment – another tactile point for increased perception of space. Barefoot runners and hikers claim being more in-tune with their bodies.
- Liberating sensation
Busy lives and congested spaces are limiting in some ways, so are our uniforms and tight shoes. Walking barefoot is just one of a number of escapes we can offer our bodies – a chance to embrace the simple and the natural. Think about the wonderful feeling of walking barefoot over sand at a beach – that can be done even on a clean paved street on a summer day.
- Meditative power
Being barefoot can have meditative power with enhanced awareness, especially walking on natural surfaces like grass, ground and sand. Many people consider it a grounding experience, with even entire movements revolving around the sensations of barefoot walking.
If you do decide to go barefoot, there a few things you should now. To begin with, given the years spent in supportive footwear, your muscles and connective tissue will need to get used to this new load. Give yourself time to adjust, build and develop the structures required for injury-free movement and do not immediately jump into running and walking long distances barefoot. Start with shorter distances and slowly build the time and distance.
Secondly, if you’re afraid of stepping on something sharp or want to move through rougher terrain, try some of the barefoot or minimalist footwear. These shoes do not have much cushioning or support, but provide a protective barrier between you and the ground. Finally, before you dive into the world of barefoot running, if you have a history of feet injuries, you should check with your doctor or physiotherapist, to see if this activity is safe for you.
Walking barefoot has many diverse benefits to your body and soul and is something every person should try (at least in their backyards).