Can Walking Barefoot Really Improve Your Health?

Scientists believe our connection with the ground can have an impact on how we feel
June 22, 2019 Updated: June 26, 2019

The fact that something as simple and relatively small as our feet can support the entire weight of an adult body is pretty incredible when you think about it. Given how much we depend on them, it’s a good idea to think about how you treat your feet.

But knowing what’s best isn’t always straightforward. Some people recommend “minimalist shoes” like those sold by New Balance, which have low heels and thin, flexible soles. Many people even maintain that going barefoot is the best way to keep your feet and body as healthy as possible.

Today, we’ll look at the options you have and see what the scientists have to say about it.

What about your kids? (Shutterstock | triocean)

Starting with your kids, what’s the best way to go? While parents know that their kids would probably never wear a shoe their entire life if they could get away with it, going barefoot has tremendously important developmental benefits. Kids learn about the world through touch, and feet are no exception.

When kids walk and run (and fall) around the house and in the yard, they develop critical muscles in their legs that help them stay stable and balanced. Without this experience, they will never get the chance to truly “walk on their own two feet,” as the saying goes.

As podiatrist Dr. Ali Khosroabadi said on The Doctors, “walking barefoot a few hours is really beneficial for our feet, especially for children.” For him, letting his kids run around inside the house was really important, as it “helps them build these muscles.”

So while it’s definitely a good idea to let your kids do their thing barefoot inside the house, when it comes to walking outdoors, there’s still a lot of debate going on. For millennia, humans have been running barefoot, and recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in “natural running.”

Advocates argue that the greatest marathon runners of all times from the Greeks who invented the Olympic Games to 20th-century champions from Ethiopia, Kenya, India, and South Africa, all ran without shoes (though sometimes with tape covering parts of the feet).

Many barefoot runners claim that common runners’ injuries are due to the way that shoes distort our natural stride. But what about all the stuff on the ground that can puncture or even contaminate your feet?

Natural running is all the rage, but be careful about where you run! (Illustration – Shutterstock | Flystock)

That’s where “minimalist shoes” come in, allowing for a very thin layer of padding to keep your feet from getting gross viruses such as planters’ warts or athlete’s foot, not to mention helping avoid sharp gravel or rusted metal, which could give you tetanus!

Most recently, many people have begun to advocate going barefoot not just for athletic training but for overall well-being, including mental health. How could going without shoes have such wide-reaching effects? The phenomenon is called “earthing.”

According to a study in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, “earthing (or grounding) refers to the discovery of benefits—including better sleep and reduced pain—from walking barefoot outside.” Other definitions of earthing simply describe it as physically reconnecting with the earth through walking barefoot.

The scientists who have tested earthing believe that these positive effects come from absorbing the natural electrons from the ground.

When was the last time you did this? It might help you feel less stressed and sleep better (Shutterstock | Jacob Lund)

Whereas most people living in big cities are increasingly cut off from contact with nature, taking your shoes off allows your body to literally “reconnect” with the earth. So the answer is probably to wear the most natural shoes possible when you have to, those that mirror the architecture of your feet as closely as possible, and take them off whenever you know and trust the surface that you’re on.

Going barefoot all the time might not be practical, but doing this even a little bit can go a long way!

Shutterstock | Bogdan Sonjachnyj