Or come to think of it when was the last time you walked around outside without your shoes on? If you are like most people then your feet rarely touch the ground. But nature has designed you and me to walk around in our bare feet for a reason.
This article will explain why wearing shoes not only deforms your feet but can potentially lead to injury but why walking in your bare feet inside and especially outside on the grass and earth is probably one of the simplest and cheapest ways to stay healthy.
Billions of $, £, Kr “wasted” on shoes every year?
Each year, consumers spend billions of $, £, Kr on fashion, work, sports and walking shoes etc. Fashion shoes come with pointed toes or high heels, sports shoes, are giving us more cushion, more support, and supposedly more comfort.
But foot experts believe the increasing fashionable or sophisticated shoes we force our feet into are not only deforming our feet but making our feet and leg muscles lazy, physically underdeveloped and more prone to injuries. This coupled with the fact that our walking environment has changed considerably over the last 100 years (we have flattened everything from roads to pavements) results in just a few areas of the foot being stimulated when walking.
What’s so unhealthy about wearing shoes?
The soles and tips of the toes contain over 200,000 nerve endings, one of the densest concentration to be found anywhere of comparable size on the body. Our nerve-dense soles are our only tactile contact with the physical world around us. Without them we would lose equilibrium and become disoriented. When you walk barefoot approximately 80% of your foot is in contact with the ground but if you look at the soles of your shoes you can see how little contact you have to the ground.
Unfortunately unnatural ideals of beauty seduce many people into cramming their feet into narrow shoes, shoes with high heels or pointed toes, heavy shoes, shoes with soles that provide little contact to the ground and therefore little sensory feedback etc. All of this causes various unsightly deformities and potential injuries. But part of this damage caused by fashion and or ignorance can be reversed regardless of age (my experience in only a few months of using Fivefingers shoes see below). Even at an advanced age walking barefoot strengthens dozens of muscles, tendons and joints and restores the natural beauty of healthy feet.
Ironically, the closest we have ever come to an “ideal” shoe was the original lightweight, soft-sole, heel-less, simple moccasin, which dates back more than 14,000 years. It consisted of a piece of crudely tanned but soft leather wrapped around the foot and held on with rawhide thongs. A custom fit, perfect in biomechanical function and no encumbrances to the foot or gait.
A natural gait or walking pattern is bio mechanically impossible for any modern shoe-wearing person, because all shoes automatically convert the natural to the unnatural. And no therapy or mechanical device, no matter how precisely designed or expertly applied, can fully reverse the gait from wrong to right. Postural alignment, body balance, body mechanics and weight distribution are all altered unnaturally by shoes.
Take off your shoes and enjoy the health benefits of walking barefoot
In his book “Take Off Your Shoes and Walk” foot Doctor Simon J. Wikler D.S.C., states that, “Practically all shoes worn daily by men and women in our Western civilization have little relation to the shape of the human foot – Most adults’ foot trouble would either not exist or would be much less bothersome if properly-shaped shoes had been worn during childhood or, better yet, if those people had gone barefoot”
Doctor Wikler explains that:
• There is no record of foot troubles in ancient times comparable to modern foot ills.
• The seeds of foot trouble were first sown in the middle Ages.
• The introduction of the elevated heel and the pointed toe marked the beginning of modern foot disabilities.
Shoes not only deform your feet over time but they often protect the feet so much that certain foot muscles get lazy because they’re not being used. In contrast people who go barefoot often have:
• Well-shaped feet with smooth skin and straight toes, without corns, hammer toes, nodes, calluses at the wrong places.
• Beautiful legs due to a gentle and natural training of all muscles of the body via walking naturally.
• More ability to spread their toes
• Stronger muscles in their feet and legs
• Greater agility and balance than those who had never gone barefoot
• Greater flexibility in their leg muscles.
• Improved posture which may help reduce lower back pain
• Less chance of getting a nasty fungal infection because fungi require dark, warm and damp spaces for growth such as that provided by shoes and socks on a foot that has no free outlet for its perspiration. Exposing the skin to the sun’s ultra-violet rays, air and contact with natural soil when going barefoot hampers the survival of these uninvited guests.
• Improved circulatory function because the motion you get from your unrestricted foot when walking barefoot activates a host of muscles in people’s foot and legs, which in turn helps to pump blood back to their hearts. This motion may not be as effective if your foot is confined in a shoe, especially if it’s a poor fitting shoe. This muscle action prevents the pooling of blood in your feet and legs, reducing the stress on the entire cardiovascular system and reducing blood pressure. This is why going barefoot is recommended to prevent vein problems.
• A better contact to nature because life-force energy called Chi (also called Qi or Prana) can only be absorbed through the soles of the feet. Ground Chi is absorbed automatically and unconsciously when walking barefoot, which may be one of the reasons why it’s so relaxing to walk without shoes on and why exercises geared toward strengthening the body and relaxing the mind (yoga, tai chi, martial arts) are also typically practiced barefoot..
• People in Germany, Austria and Switzerland can visit “barefoot parks” and walk along “paths of the senses” – with mud, logs, stone and moss underfoot – to receive what’s known there as reflexzonmassage. Reflexologists have long advocated walking on textured surfaces to stimulate so-called “acupoints” on the soles of the feet. Practitioners of this complementary therapy believe that pressure applied to particular spots on the foot connects directly to corresponding organs and can enhance their function.
Run barefoot and reduce the chance of injury
If you’re thinking that running barefoot sounds strange, consider the findings of Michael Warburton, a physical therapist in Australia. In a 2001 research paper he wrote that running barefoot decreases the likelihood of ankle sprains and chronic injuries, such as plantar fasciitis. And, wearing shoes actually increases the risk of sprains because they make runners unaware of the foot’s position.
Laboratory studies show that the energy cost of running is reduced by about 4% when the feet are not shod, and that’s a massive potential increase in performance! In spite of these apparent benefits, barefoot running is rare in competition, and there are no published controlled trials of the effects of running barefoot on simulated or real competitive performance.
Of course more research is needed to establish should runners consider running barefoot. Concerns about puncture wounds, bruising, thermal injury, and overuse injury during the adaptation period should be addressed.
You were born barefoot – Fivefingers to the rescue
I have always enjoyed walking in my bare feet but after being stung by a wasp and being cut by some glass last summer I was very wary of doing so. So when one of my friends Matthew Wallden who is a very skilled Osteopath and foot expert (he has recently written a chapter in a book about feet) showed me his pride and joy – new pair of Fivefingers he had found in New York, I immediately began to see all the benefits of walking barefoot combined with the safety of a shoe.
FiveFingers enhances your natural barefoot walking motion as they provide contact to the ground, gently spreads your toes to strengthen foot muscles, increase range of motion, and improves general foot health. They also stimulate muscles in your feet and lower legs for greater balance, agility and strength and also helps straighten your spine, improve your posture, which may reduce or prevent lower back pain.
After using Fivefingers for 2 months I believe these unique “shoes” are an unrivalled alternative to conventional footwear. They are the first and only footwear to offer the exhilarating and natural feelings of going barefoot—with the protection from sharp objects and surefooted grip of a Vibram sole.
After using these amazing shoes for only a few weeks I can already feel the benefit of my feet slowly but surely going back to their natural shape, increase flexibility and strength in my feet and legs and a general feel good experience. I have used them for walking, running on grass and in the Forrest, weight and Swiss ball training. Other people have used FiveFingers for windsurfing and kite boarding, hiking and trekking etc.
When you walk barefoot, you move like a child, -playful and sensitive, yet purposeful and confident. You experience once again the unbounded joy of stepping, hopping and running across any surface on earth. Walking without shoes on is not only fun but also incredibly healthy.
If you are still sceptical about how important it is to walk around barefoot then take your shoes off and have a look at your feet. Do you have pretty feet with straight toes pointing straight out from your feet? Do your feet look like those of the baby feet in the picture above? No I didn’t think so. If you are like all western people who cram their feet into shoes every day, then you have deformed feet and in doing so increase the risk of injury.
I was actually shocked when I compared my feet (35 years of wearing shoes) to my 14 day old son who has obviously never worn shoes. His feet actually are pleasant to look at and its not often you can say that about an adults feet, but what’s even more striking is that his toes are long and straight pointing straight out of his foot. Where as my toes are like most adults feet; crooked with my toes squashed together.
Walking barefoot is what nature intended. Studies show that barefoot walking leads to stronger feet, that stronger feet leads to a stronger body, improved circulation and that natural movement enhances agility and balance. Think about when you tend to go barefoot – at the beach, at home on the carpet, walking on cool grass in the summer, doesn’t it feel so energizing and relaxing?
So go on take your shoes off and feel the joy of getting back to nature, if you are worried about injuring your foot then Fivefingers is a sound investment.
As you read our reviews, please keep in mind that our reviewers review shoes in terms of their suitability for those looking to find the highest quality minimalist shoe products. All reviews are as factual as possible. In an effort to be transparent and ethical, we will point out any defects found, even if these do not affect the usability of the product. Not all defects will be present in final production shoes as we are sometimes offered “seconds” or pre-release products in an effort to provide you with reviews in a timely manor. In the event that serious issues are found with a review sample we will give every opportunity for the manufacturer to replace to explain the review samples before the final review is released. We never accept payments for reviews. We do not guarantee a good review for any products sent to us. We do not review products that do not claim to be minimalist or “barefoot like” unless we receive a significant number of requests from readers or listeners.
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