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The Many Benefits of Being Barefoot

Updated: Apr 9

Barefoot walking to reduce pain, relieve stress, and live longer


I was walking through Glastonbury recently and all of the barefoot locals got me thinking again about the benefits of walking with bare feet. It’s something I’ve experimented with over the years, now wearing barefoot shoes as standard, and trying to get my shoes and socks off as often as physically possible. This is always tough during the winter, but now the warmer weather is coming it’s time to free the feet once again.


The act of going barefoot is nothing new and it’s certainly gaining in popularity in recent times, but it’s still largely alien to the majority of the Western world. Allow me to briefly explore the many reasons you should leave those shoes behind, the next time you go for a stroll.


 

In this article


 

 

1. Strength, Balance & Injury Prevention


For the vast majority of us, we no longer do ‘back-breaking’ work and yet chronic back pain seems to be more common than ever. Knee pain is the same and hips aren’t any different - could shoes with thick spongey heels have anything to do with it? When we land hard on our heels, we send a great deal of force through our joints and up our spine with every step - going barefoot encourages you to walk with more control.


Without the shoe caging the foot, it’s free to flex and go through its full range of motions. You have to ease into going barefoot because your feet and legs are weak and imbalanced from long-term use of shoes. As you gain strength, your balance improves and so does your posture. Better posture = less chance of joint and back pain.


Barefoot cultures don’t have the postural and joint problems we have - We think these chronic pains and injuries are due to the aging process, but the problem lies in the 216 million steps we take along the way. That we’re living longer than ever just means we take a few million more ankle-twisting, knee-buckling, and spine-jolting steps.

 


2. Grounding & Reflexology


Walking barefoot means you’ll be stimulating the nerves of the feet, which as anyone who’s had a foot massage knows, results in stress reduction and relaxation, and in turn contributes to better quality of sleep. The stimulation of nerves on your toes even contributes to improved eye health.


Grounding or Earthing are terms commonly used to describe what happens when your body makes contact with the Earth through bare skin. This has been shown to reduce inflammation (reducing cytokines), boost immunity (transfer electrons to the body), promote mental health (influencing the brains electrical activity), improve cardiovascular health (lowered blood viscosity), and regulate your body’s systems (synchronizing your heartbeat).

 


3. Lesser-known benefits


Barefoot articles will often warn of the risks of infections when walking barefoot, but I never see the opposite of this being mentioned.


At least three modern medical triumphs have been discovered in our soils… Sirolimus, also known as Rapamycin was discovered in the soil on Easter Island (Rapa Nui) - it’s an anti-fungal and an mTor inhibitor (more on that later). Tacrolimus was discovered in a soil sample from the base of Mt Tsukuba in Japan - it’s a potent anti-inflammatory and antifungal, and mTor inhibitor. Ivermectin, an Nobel Prize winning anti-parasite drug, is derived from Avermectin, which was once again found in Japanese soil.

 

mTor inhibitors are known as ‘anti-aging’ compounds, which have been shown to slow aging and increase the life-span (of mice). It turns out that walking barefoot and coming into contact with these compounds could potentially make us live longer.


So, our soils are full of beneficial bacteria helping us to live healthier and longer lives, the Earth donates electrons for the benefit of our heart and brains, and the very act of walking barefooted stimulates and strengthens the entire body. It’s almost as if we’re meant to be walking barefoot, rather than on a thick, spongy pad of insulating rubber. What a wild idea!



Personal Notes from my own experience &

potential risks to watch out for


1. Beware of hard ground


It’s worth being careful how much truly barefoot walking you do on solid ground like tarmac. The benefits won’t be the same as on the natural earth and walking correctly is key to avoiding pain and injury - new barefooters should stick to softer ground and/or buy barefoot shoes


2. Get some shoes


Your feet will toughen up, but there are also increasing options of barefoot shoes available. These will provide some cushioning for newbies and protection for stubbed toes, not to mention stray rocks which will feel ten times as big as they really are


3. Take your time


I began barefoot life by running 5km 3-times a week in hilly Sheffield - after a month or so of powering through, I had to take an extended break due to the pain in my feet/calves/shins… Your feet and legs will be weak and pathetic from their sheltered lives of luxury, give them a chance to acclimatize


4. You’ll never go back!


Stick with it and the benefits will become obvious.

 

 

FAQs

10 Frequently Asked Questions


1. What does barefoot mean?

It can either mean going without shoes and socks or it can refer to a type of shoe. A barefoot shoe or trainer is one with 'zero drop' - this refers to the height of the heel comparative to the height at the toe. Barefoot shoes should also be flexible and have a wide area to allow your feet to spread and flex naturally. Some barefoot shoes have separate areas for each toe or a 4-1 system with the big toe separated.


2. Will walking barefoot change my feet?

Your feet will get stronger and toughen up on the soles, your toes may also spread wider to accommodate a better feel and grip. Better gait and posture may realign your feet, more evenly distribute weight, and balance the arches. This could be more pronounced in those with an unhealthy walking style exacerbated by ill-fitting or worn shoes.


3. Where can I get the best barefoot shoes?

As walking with bare feet becomes ever more popular, more companies are producing barefoot shoes than ever before. These shoes provide different levels of 'barefoot' and protection, meaning you can more comfortably ease into barefoot walking or running. Research for what you're specifically looking for, as no two barefoot shoes are the same.


4. What are the health benefits of walking barefoot?

You may want to scroll up and read the article above.


5. Can I run in bare feet?

Of course, but you'll need to change how you run. If you try running heel to toe with the usual impact of that heel strike without the inch of cushioning... you'll soon stop. Check out the many articles and videos on correct running form before punishing your joints.


6. Can I get injured whilst barefoot running?

Yes and I did. Ease into it, make sure you're running correctly, and maybe get some barefoot shoes that will help.


7. Can I walk in bare feet with Diabetes?

Yes, but your feet may be more sensitive and prone to being damaged. Do your research first, take precautions, and closely monitor the situation.


8. How long should I walk barefoot?

Build up slowly and you can walk forever. There are various recommendations around the internet, but just listen to your body and trust what it's telling you. Everyone is different and we're all starting from different places, find what's right for you.


9. Can I walk or run barefoot on a treadmill?

Sure, why not? Just ensure you're running correctly and it's not causing your feet any distress.


10. Where can I learn more about barefoot walking?

There's a tonne of information online about barefoot walking and not all of it is terrible. Do your own research, exercise common sense, listen to your body. Find people who are experienced and ask for their advice - most articles online are written for content by people who aren't experts on the subject (ahem), so seek out a genuine expert with real experience!




 
Adam Pike - Holistic Healer

Looking for more advice on going Barefoot?

Get in touch with Adam Pike

Holistic Healer & Health Consultant | Director of Spiritual England


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