Humans lived for thousands of years without shoes. They walked, ran, hunted, farmed and did other things barefoot. So it’s not impossible to go barefoot. In fact, many studies suggest that there are plenty of benefits of ditching shoes.
That said, going barefoot comes with risks depending on how quickly you transition, your health and your environment.
In this post, we discuss whether it’s better for your feet to not wear shoes and how you can enjoy the benefits of being barefoot without hurting your feet.
Table of Contents
- What Are The Benefits Of Going Barefoot?
- Is Walking Barefoot Good For Grounding?
- How Staying Barefoot Affects Your Feet
- The Risks Of Walking or Running Barefoot
- How To Go Barefoot Without Hurting Your Feet
What Are The Benefits Of Going Barefoot?
Experts agree that it is generally better for your feet to not wear shoes. Whether you should go barefoot is another matter altogether that we’ll discuss shortly.
Once humans started wearing shoes, we lost many of the advantages that came from being barefoot. Here are the biggest ones.
- Walking and running barefoot improves foot mechanics. These include movement, balance and gait. Improved mechanics can improve your speed and efficiency, and reduce stress and injuries (like plantar fasciitis) on your joints, muscles and other foot structures.
- These benefits can extend further up your body to your knees, hips and core. This improves overall body movement, strength and stability.
- Walking barefoot exercises and strengthens all your foot and legs muscles. Some of these muscles get neglected when you wear shoes. As a result, going barefoot can give you stronger feet and legs. This can further improve your performance and reduce injuries.
- Walking or running barefoot can also strengthen your knees and lower back.
- Going barefoot can improve proprioception. This is your awareness of where your body is and how it moves within a space. Some experts suggest that wearing shoes reduces our proprioception, making us more vulnerable to losing balance and falling as we age. Proprioception is the main reason doctors recommend babies learn to walk without shoes.
- Staying barefoot saves you all the trouble associated with wearing shoes such as bunions, blisters, hammertoes and other problems.
Is Walking Barefoot Good For Grounding?
Another benefit you may have heard regarding walking barefoot is grounding.
Our bodies contain free radicals (positively charged atoms with unpaired electrons) that come from various metabolic processes in our body. They can also come from external sources like pollution.
Free radicals are bad. They damage healthy body cells and lead to inflammation. This contributes to a wide range of diseases including diabetes, dementia, cancer and so on.
In several, though small, studies, researchers have found that contact with the earth has a grounding effect.
This is where our bodies get electrons from the negatively charged earth’s surface. These electrons neutralize free radicals in the body. It’s like taking in antioxidants from healthy foods.
While there is still more research that’s needed, there is a possibility that grounding is good for your health. It’s been linked to reduced anxiety, lower chronic pain and an improvement in sleep quality.
Walking or running barefoot is one of the best ways to ground your body. You can also lie on the ground or go for a swim.
How Staying Barefoot Affects Your Feet
As you start spending more time without shoes, you’ll notice a few changes to your feet. The biggest change is the development of calluses, good calluses.
Your skin thickens in response to the increased friction and pressure. The calluses protect your feet. However, they do not reduce foot sensitivity.
A team of researchers from Harvad university went to Kenya to investigate people who’d spent most of their lives barefoot. You can watch the video below.
They found that people who stay barefoot have thicker skin (calluses) but do not lose any sensitivity on their feet. So they are able to maintain their awareness, ensuring good balance and stability.
You’ll also find that going barefoot makes you more aware of your movement. You can feel every step and you are more conscious about your gait.
As long as you carefully ease into it, you may also experience less pain and soreness especially as your feet and legs get stronger.
The Risks Of Walking or Running Barefoot
Our modern world is not really made for staying barefoot. This is why going barefoot carries more risks today than it probably did thousands of years ago.
For one, our world is highly built-up. There’s pavement, asphalt and concrete everywhere especially if you live in an urban area.
These hard surfaces are tough on your feet. They can cause pain and injury. In addition, they get a lot hotter or much colder compared to bare earth. If you try walking on pavement on a hot day, it’s almost as bad as firewalking.
You are also likely to encounter broken glass and other sharp objects when walking barefoot. These can hurt your feet and introduce dangerous infections.
That’s why diabetics should avoid walking barefoot. You could easily develop wounds or cuts without realizing it.
The other risk of going barefoot is getting into it too fast. After spending your entire life in soft padded shoes, deciding to spend all day barefoot can result in serious pain and injury to your feet.
You need to give your feet time to develop the right mechanics for walking without shoes.
How To Go Barefoot Without Hurting Your Feet
The good news is that you can transition to not wearing shoes without hurting your feet. You may not be able to achieve a 24/7 barefoot lifestyle, but even a few minutes or hours of staying barefoot can be beneficial.
Here are our top tips for going barefoot safely.
Ease Into It
The biggest mistake people make when going barefoot is overdoing it too soon. Remember your feet are used to walking and running in shoes.
Moving about barefoot requires different mechanics and activates muscles you’ve never had to use.
If you go from wearing shoes to spending all day barefoot will lead to pain, soreness and injuries.
The trick is to ease into it. Try walking on grass or sand for just 15 minutes. After a few days, increase that to an hour while you are at the park. If you start to experience any pain, go back to 15 minutes.
As you get used to the feeling of not having shoes, spend more and more time daily barefoot. You can walk around your home barefoot or go on a barefoot walk around your home (look for a safe dirt or sand trail).
Next, try to jog barefoot. Start with short distances and slowly build up to longer runs and higher speeds.
It’s important that you listen to your body. Don’t push it too far or too fast.
Consider Minimalist Shoes
Another great way to ease into a barefoot lifestyle is to wear minimalist shoes, also called barefoot shoes.
These are shoes designed to help your feet adapt to a natural gait. They are not quite the same as barefoot walking, but they can help you transition to walking without shoes.
You can stop at minimalist shoes if you want. They can improve gait, balance, strength and stability even if you never fully transition to barefoot walking.
Choose The Right Walking Surface
When walking or running barefoot, choose a safe surface.
At home, carpet, foam tiles, or hardwood flooring are all surfaces that are gentle on your feet. Within your yard, you can walk on sand, grass, dirt or pea gravel. These surfaces can help you prepare for walking barefoot outdoors.
When outdoors on trails and paths, look for natural surfaces with dirt, gravel, grass or sand. Avoid paths that are likely to have glass, cans, plastics, sharp rocks and other potentially dangerous objects that can injure your feet.
Watch Out For Cuts & Bruises
Even if you are not diabetic, it is important to inspect your feet regularly. Look for any cuts and bruises you may have missed and treat them right away to prevent infection.
Also watch out for any blisters that may be forming or calluses that might turn into sores.
If you have a particularly bad wound or injury, avoid staying barefoot until you heal.
Know Your Limits
As you become an expert at barefoot walking, it is tempting to push yourself further and further. One of the things people love to try is barefoot hiking.
We don’t recommend this unless you have a lot of experience walking barefoot outdoors.
Hiking trails are unpredictable. You might encounter a nice dirt path one minute and a dangerous rocky one the next.
Temperatures can also do a number on your feet. Walking on hot sand is no joke and barefoot walking on snow risks frostbite.
If you know the trail well and are sure it is safe, go ahead and give barefoot hiking a try. But for new and long hikes, stick with hiking boots.
For most people, spending time barefoot at home is enough to enjoy the benefits of a barefoot lifestyle. Try gardening, yoga, playing with your kids, house chores and other activities without shoes on.