In many ways our culture is obsessed with shoes, with $55 billion dollars per year are spent on sneakers alone. Shoes have evolved from leather hides wrapped around our feet to keep them warm to symbols of status and sexuality. More people know Imelda Marcos for her collection of 3,000 than they know her as wife of the Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. Hey, we’ve got our priorities.
Don’t get me wrong, I like shoes, too. But I like health, more.
In our culture, we are also afraid of dirt, regarding it as a source of….germs! Eek! We are always throwing on some type of shoe to walk to the mailbox, grab something from the car or even take out the trash. It’s too common that people don’t even walk barefoot in their own homes, because wearing slippers seems like a smarter decision. What you might not know is that walking barefoot is the healthier option, for children and adults. So kick off your shoes and learn how there are healthier reasons to go barefoot every day.
#1 | Earthing
Earthing, otherwise known as grounding, is a simple, but influential healing practice in which you obtain the remedial properties of the earth by merely touching it. Naturopathic physician Daniel Chong explains that “when you touch the earth with your skin or through material that does not insulate you from its energy field, you immediately begin absorbing a significant amount of electrons from its surface into your body.”1 When you walk barefoot, the electrons you absorb from the earth neutralize the free radicals that we build up throughout the day, as free radicals are positively charged and the surface of the Earth is negatively charged.2 Although antioxidants are known to neutralize the effects of free radicals, they are only a grain of sand compared to the benefits of earthing. Dr. Laura Koniver, MD, recommends “Earthing every day for at least 10 minutes, but stresses that you cannot overdo it…Earthing can help with a wide range of health problems, including arthritis, stress, sleeping disorders and depression.”3 Walking barefoot outside is essential for your health. So kick off your shoes, spend some one-on-one time with the Earth, and reap the benefits!
#2 | Immune System
We need exposure to the microbes and healthy bacteria in soil to strengthen our immune systems. Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein, MD and author of The Dirt Cure, clarifies that “we have 3-4 pounds of microbes—bacteria, viruses, fungi, even parasites—in our digestive tracts, where they help us digest our food, regulate our immune systems, produce neurotransmitters, and make us smarter, more focused, and happier.”4 When we walk around barefoot, the bacteria in soil makes its way into our immune system, “and in or out, exposure to bacteria has been shown to be an important part of the development of our immune systems. Exposure to bacteria, both benign and harmful, is what primes the immune system to respond to pathogenic invaders later in life.”5 We live in a world where everything needs to be sanitized, and dirt is deemed bad; however, allowing ourselves to walk around barefoot ultimately makes us into stronger and healthier people.
#3 | Balance and Proprioception
Our foot muscles are prone to weakness from shoes and soft surfaces, because walking on soft surfaces and constantly wearing shoes doesn’t cause our feet to be strong and flexible anymore. David Benjamin, founder of Healthy Wild and Free, stresses the importance of weak feet as he writes, “This leads to bad posture because we become reliant upon other muscles to do the job our feet are responsible for doing.”6 Walking barefoot helps nurture how the brain sends signals through the muscle groups to improve balance and proprioception, the sense of how our bodies are positioned.7 When we begin to walk barefoot, we can strengthen our ankles, feet and toes again giving us better balance, proprioception, stability and posture.
#4 | Uneven Gait from Shoe Walking
Gait is a person’s manner of walking, and shoes make maintaining an even gait difficult. Involving half of the body’s 650 muscles and 200 bones, gait is the single most compound motor function of the body. A recent study, Effect of flip-flops on lower limb kinematics during walking: a cross-sectional study using three-dimensional gait analysis, did a gait analysis on fifteen healthy adults and found the “separation of the flip-flop from the foot led to increased knee flexion and ankle dorsiflexion in swing.”8 Abnormal use of these functions leads to an uneven gait and an increased risk of injury. In a compilation of over 100 benefits of walking barefoot, Tom Kutscher writes that “With one carelessly designed instrument, our shoes, we have warped the pure anatomical form of human gait, obstructing its engineering efficiency, afflicting it with strains and stresses and denying its natural grace of form and ease of movement.”9 Naturally, an even gait is almost impossible for any person who wears shoes. Taking the time to walk barefoot when possible will help strengthen your feet and possibly reverse the damage being done by wearing shoes.
#5 | Stone Walking/Reflexology
The pressure of stones under bare feet provides a therapeutic exercise that stimulates health, and “based on wisdom from ancient Egypt, India and China, reflexology paths massage and stimulate acupressure points in the soles of the feet connected to various energy meridians of the body.”10 Reflexology paths are made from soft and smooth river rocks, and they are placed in a specific trail to stimulate neurological reflex zones on the foot. A recently completed study by scientists at the Oregon Research Institute confirmed that “walking on a cobblestone mat surface resulted in significant reduction in blood pressure, and improvement in balance and physical performance.”11 Other benefits of stone walking include stress relief, improvement in mental well-being, stimulated energy and blood flow, and stimulated pressure points corresponding to all major organs. Walking on stones does not only feel good, it has multiple health benefits which make walking barefoot worth it.
#6 | Blood Pressure
About 70 million adults in America suffer with high blood pressure-that’s 1 of every 3 adults. High blood pressure costs the nation $46 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications to treat high blood pressure, and missed days of work.12 Taking off your shoes and spending time each day barefoot can lower high blood pressure, ultimately saving money, time and lives. Mentioned earlier, earthing is very beneficial for health and reducing high blood pressure is one of the benefits. Dr. Stephen Sinatra, cardiologist and founder of the New England Heart Center, explicates that “By altering the electrical “charge” of your blood, earthing helps to improve its flow and viscosity, reducing blood pressure. It also lowers blood pressure naturally by discharging stress.”13 Walking on cobblestone is another barefoot activity that naturally lowers blood pressure. Shirley Archer, author of Barefoot Cobblestone Walking Lowers Blood Pressure, summarizes a study conducted by the Oregon Research Institute in which they studied elderly adults and the effect of cobblestone on high blood pressure. Researchers found that cobblestone mat walking “reduced blood pressure more than regular walking. It acts like a gravity-based massage that relaxes the body and lowers blood pressure in the process.”14 By encouraging people who suffer with high blood pressure to walk barefoot, you are saving money and lives one step at a time.
#7 | Healthier Joints
Walking barefoot is not only beneficial for blood pressure, but for maintaining healthier joints as well. Since 2012, an estimated 52.5 million American adults annually are told by a doctor that they have some form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, or fibromyalgia.15 It’s amazingly simple how taking off your shoes can not only reduce this statistic, but also prevent it from growing. A recent study, Walking barefoot decreases loading on the lower extremity joints in knee osteoarthritis, analyzed the difference between walking barefoot and walking with shoes on 75 people with knee osteoarthritis. The study found that “peak joint loads at the hips and knees significantly decreased during barefoot walking, with an 11.9% reduction noted in the knee adduction moment. Stride, cadence, and range of motion at the lower extremity joints also changed significantly.”16 Even at an advanced age, going barefoot strengthens dozens of muscles, tendons and joints in the body, because wearing shoes causes weakness that is experienced in the feet and ankles, ultimately having similar effects on the knee joints and the legs in general. Going barefoot will not only reduce your risk of having joint problems, it can reduce symptoms in people suffering from arthritis and other joint-related issues.
Razi Berry, Founder and Publisher of Naturopathic Doctor News & Review (ndnr.com) and NaturalPath (thenatpath.com), has spent the last decade as a natural medicine advocate and marketing whiz. She has galvanized and supported the naturopathic community, bringing a higher quality of healthcare to millions of North Americans through her publications. A self-proclaimed health-food junkie and mother of two; she loves all things nature, is obsessed with organic gardening, growing fruit trees (not easy in Phoenix), laughing until she snorts, and homeschooling. She is a little bit crunchy and yes, that is her real name.
- NDNR Editor, 2012. The Benefits of Reconnecting with the Earth. http://ndnr.com/cardiopulmonary-medicine/he-benefits-of-reconnecting-with-the-earth/
- Gaétan Chevalier, Stephen T. Sinatra, James L. Oschman, Karol Sokal, and Pawel Sokal, 2012. Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3265077/
- FOX News Magazine, 2012. Earthing: Go Barefoot for Better Health? http://magazine.foxnews.com/earthing-go-barefoot-better-health
- NaturalPath Editor, 2016. The Dirt Cure: How Getting Germy Can Help You Live Longer. http://thenatpath.com/natural-news/the-dirt-cure-how-getting-germy-can-help-you-live-longer/
- Molika Ashford, 2010. Could Humans Live Without Bacteria? http://www.livescience.com/32761-good-bacteria-boost-immune-system.html
- David Benjamin, 2015. The Effects of Walking Barefoot 5 Minutes Daily Are Astonishing. http://healthywildandfree.com/the-effects-of-walking-barefoot-5-minutes-daily-are-astonishing/
- Samantha Olson, 2015. Walking Barefoot Helps You Avoid Foot Injuries; Also Improves Posture, Balance, And Stability. http://www.medicaldaily.com/walking-barefoot-helps-you-avoid-foot-injuries-also-improves-posture-balance-and-362164
- Sharpe T, Malone A, French H, Kiernan D, O’Brien T, 2016. Effect of flip-flops on lower limb kinematics during walking: a cross-sectional study using three-dimensional gait analysis. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26902474
- Tom A. Kutscher. Barefoot Walking and Living Health Benefits (And 125 Reasons To Go Barefoot). http://www.barefootkc.com/benefits.html
- Lallous, 2014. The health benefits of “Foot Reflexology Path”. http://lallouslab.net/2014/11/14/health-benefits-of-foot-reflexology-path/
- Nwankwo T, Yoon SS, Burt V, Gu Q, 2013. Hypertension among adults in the US: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011-2012. NCHS Data Brief, No. 133. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Dept of Health and Human Services
- Dr. Stephen Sinatra, 2015. Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally with Grounding. http://www.drsinatra.com/lower-your-high-blood-pressure-with-grounding/
- Shirley Archer, 2006. Barefoot Cobblestone Walking Lowers Blood Pressure. http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/barefoot-cobblestone-walking-lowers-blood-pressure
- Barbour KE, Helmick CG, Theis KA, Murphy LB, Hootman JM, Brady TJ, et al. Prevalence of Doctor-Diagnosed Arthritis and Arthritis-Attributable Activity Limitation — United States, 2010–2012. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2013;62(44):869-873. PubMed PMID: 24196662
- Shakoor N, Block JA, 2006. Walking barefoot decreases loading on the lower extremity joints in knee osteoarthritis. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16947448