Can Going Barefoot Improve My Health?

Footwear manufacturers and shoe designers are on a mission to create shoes that best mimic the natural form of the human foot. Running barefoot or “going barefoot” is no longer restricted to the urban hippie or alternative living enthusiast. Scientific research seems to suggest shedding your shoes could help improve your health.

Built To Be Barefoot

The human body perfected itself over centuries, and researchers believe it is the most biologically natural form for the function it is meant to serve. Feet are already designed to work barefoot on most natural surfaces. The challenge now is because of the new man-made materials and surfaces we have created, to which the foot isn’t optimized.1

Going Barefoot (or not) Can Impact Your Health

Skipping your footwear may be better than you’d imagine. Here’s a look at changes your body undergoes when you are barefoot – compelling reasons to go shoeless.

Stronger Arch

According to one study, going

barefoot strengthens the arch due to the absence of external support. When a group of children aged 4 to 13 was studied, it was found that flat footedness was much higher among the urban shod-foot group compared to the rural mostly barefoot group. The researchers believe this is because the arch of the foot develops at a certain age and wearing shoes too much hampers this.2 3

Better Balanced Pressure

A study of the effects of going barefoot compared to wearing shoes revealed stark differences. Indians who were habitually barefoot not only had wider feet but also feet that balanced load across the surface better. Indians who did wear footwear showed distinctive high and low peak pressure areas on

the foot. Those in the West who wore more fitted footwear than Indians-saw high peak pressure regions focused in the hallux, heel, and metatarsals. Their feet were also more slender.4

Improved Posture And Gait

Heightened self-awareness that comes with going footwear-free results in better posture and any hunching or sagging is immediately perceptible. This also helps improve your core strength and give you those coveted “steely abs.”5

Improved Circulation

Going barefoot can help improve the circulation in your body. Authors Michael Sander and Jessica Lee mention that the increased flow of blood to your lower extremities can also help lower risk of varicose veins.6 This is the opposite of what the body experiences with high-heeled shoes that lower muscle pump function. Constant usage of heeled shoes can cause venous disease and venous hypertension.7

Lowered Impact

Going shoeless can reduce impact when running. According to a study on shod runners, a significant collision force was experienced a whopping 960 times during each mile on the road. The heels were struck as they ran, due to the design of footwear. Barefoot runners tend to land on the front or mid section of the foot, resulting in less force of the impact. Calf muscles may also be better developed, to make the legs more “springy” to cope with any impact experienced during a run.8 9

Lower Oxygen Cost

Running shoeless also helps improve economy with a lower oxygen cost to the body. Researchers surmised that this is due to higher elastic energy in barefoot runners, as well as added oxygen cost from the mass of the shoe itself. Running barefoot may help with strengthening the muscle that stabilizes the feet.10

Ground Yourself

An interesting yet debatable new area of study also shows that by going barefoot you are “grounding” yourself through direct contact with the earth and its free electrons. One group of researchers studied the effect this has on health conditions like chronic stress, inflammatory conditions, unrestful sleep, pain,

and even cardiovascular illness. They concluded that alongside a good diet and clean water, exercise, sunshine and fresh air, the human body needed to be earthed by direct contact with the ground, sans shoes.11

Go Barefoot Or Get The Right Footwear

Should you choose to go shoeless, ease yourself in gently. Let the body strengthen the calf muscle and the foot itself. Your gait will slowly alter as your body adapts. The foot will develop a generally thicker padding to allow for running over different surfaces.

Even if you decide to skip joining the barefoot brigade, pick your footwear well. If you pick the wrong footwear, it could alter not just the appearance or morphology of your foot, but also its biomechanical behavior.12 With the right footwear, you can stride out and face the world knowing you’re well armed for whatever your foot comes up against!