“To be barefoot or not to be”
As we go into the twenty first century we learn more each day about our body. Surprising are the discoveries about the various attributes of our feet. We now know the feet contribute more to the well being of our body than just keeping us upright to walk or run.
In the early development of the human body, we were a walking or running species. Our feet were important to our survival. We lived in a land which was warm and its surface was usually a jungle or plain which had a relatively smooth surface. Thus the foot as it developed had a soft skin which could grab the earth securely and send messages to our brain of the surface condition. As the centuries progressed we moved into harsher more rocky strewn environments looking for food. Our needs progressed as the surface became harsher with rocks remaining from glaciers. In combat with other humans we found our feet needed more protection. If they were struck by an antagonist, we would fall and be killed. Thus, we made tough boots so that we could exist as hunters. We also had to withstand harsher weather so the feet needed to be protected from ice.
However, today in many climates we have warm interiors to our homes, warm summers with leisure time and we are surrounded with paved and smooth surfaces to walk on. What does this mean with regard to going barefoot?
It may mean better health as we return to our natural state.We are learning to eat the primary foods of our ancestors to have a healthier digestion. We may need to relearn foot health and natural design to be able to walk and run better without injury.
Let’s look at the thoughts on this subject.
One of the more fascinating ideas is the concept of earthing. This means that the body receives electrical current form the earth. The idea is that the earth’s free electrons can enter your body when your bare feet contact the soil. This results in a stable internal electrical environment for the body. Whether this works of not is subject to much more testing. Earthing fans believe the body can suffer from electrical imbalance. Thus, stabilizing the imbalance will reduce inflammation and other irritation throughout the body and thus promote health.
Another benefit is balance in the act of standing erect. By feeling the ground with bare feet you can better orient your weight and walk more securely.
Muscles can be awakened and toned. Pronation (the science of your foot movement) in your natural gait can be improved to better distribute your body’s weight as it contacts the ground. Runners have long debated this issue. In running, shoes have given athletes the capability for longer strides and speed. However, shorter strides with bare feet can improve pounding on heels and the resultant injuries. Check out Bill Gifford’s excellent discussion of barefoot running in Men’s Journal http://www.mensjournal.com/magazine/is-barefoot-running-really-better-20130603
Often, your feet become healthier through being barefoot. Since the foot is in use through all its nerves and muscles, it tends to improve in strength, flexibility and blood flow. Think about this. In wearing shoes you are essentially standing on a small platform. This can often give you a slippery support, especially if the shoes are poorly fitted. If you fall you can twist your ankle. Your foot, moving inside poorly designed shoes, has no chance to adapt to a change in posture as it was originally designed to do. With shoes, of course your toes have little value at all. However, they were supposed to help you adapt to the ground and to wrap around things to help you climb.
But what are the downsides of being barefoot?
Your feet get dirty for sure. It can be a big difference whether this is earthy soil from forest paths or ugly filth from city streets.
If you puncture the skin of your feet with a sharp object, you’ll need a tetanus shot to prevent possible lockjaw. You’ll also need clean bandages.
There’s the danger of absorbing disease from walking on infested soil such as refuse from animals. This could produce hookworm. Plantar warts and athletes foot can be contacted by being barefoot, especially at the pool or showering at a public gym.
Everyone is affected by foot trauma from icy or hot surfaces. You’ll have to watch the weather. Winter weather is not fun for walking barefoot and the heated concrete streets of summer are not pleasant.
Check out these sources for more information and always consult your foot doctor for advice on your own plans to be barefoot.