Few might consider the health benefits of walking barefoot on the beach as their toes sink into soft sand — it just feels good. Some people have even resorted to wearing shoes only when necessary, as they’ve recognized how good their body feels from having their feet on the ground. Scientific evidence also suggests that there are, in fact, several benefits of walking barefoot.
If you’ve ever tried associating the feeling of barefoot walking with your health or wondered if you should forgo shoes at all, the physical and mental health advantages may convince you. Read on to discover the top benefits of barefoot walking and any disadvantages to consider.
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Is walking barefoot good for you?
Just one of your feet contains 33 joints and 26 bones, with well over a hundred tendons, muscles, and ligaments that allow you to move, stand and carry your body’s weight. Of course, that doesn’t begin to cover the thousands of nerve endings, most of which are in your heel.
People who walk barefoot practice grounding or earthing, a therapeutic technique that reconnects you to the earth. Grounding uses electrical conductivity to direct cellular contact with the living matrix. Some describe it as functioning similarly to our natural immune defense or antioxidants.
One should look to our ancestors to determine the benefits of walking barefoot because humans have been barefoot walking for millions of years. Even since the first footwear appeared about 30,000 years ago, most people continue wearing shoes that offer protection from the elements.
When asking if walking barefoot is good for you, consider the state of current footwear and the prevalence of diseases. Chronic injuries and bodily impacts while running could cause severe damage to the tendons — but going barefoot could also resolve many of today’s ailments.
Top 5 health benefits of walking barefoot
Studies have highlighted positive outcomes from barefoot walking. Although research remains in its infancy regarding earthing, scientists have discovered five health benefits of walking barefoot outside.
1. barefoot walking can enhance sleep quality
You might want to walk barefoot if you struggle to sleep the recommended seven to nine hours every night. Research shows that grounding can enhance your ability to have a restful night.
Consider the earth’s free electrons a limitless source of antioxidants. When your feet connect with the ground, it helps reduce cortisol levels — the stress hormone that often causes insomnia and other sleep disorders.
One particular study proved the sleep benefits of walking barefoot in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s poses a significant risk of individuals losing shuteye. The 12-week study found that grounding neutralized free radicals in the body, helping to regulate circadian rhythms and cortisol.
2. Balancing blood pressure
Although soft, natural textures feel nice on your soles, walking barefoot on pebbles has some circulatory benefits. Early studies suggested that barefoot walking on a cobblestone mat for 45 minutes for eight weeks helped balance blood pressure and reduce falls. The study proved revolutionary when considering treatment for older adults.
A 2005 follow-up study corroborated these findings, determining that cobblestone mats were more effective at reducing blood pressure in older adults than walking on a flat surface.
As you age, walking barefoot on pebbles may be a therapeutic alternative to ensure proper circulation and heart health.
3. Barefoot walking can reduce pain and inflammation
Reducing chronic pain and inflammation are other benefits of walking barefoot. Inflammation has been known to cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and decreased cognition – about 40 million people die annually due to these conditions.
However, doctors now prescribe walking barefoot as an effective treatment for reducing inflammation in the body, which causes pain in more than 20 percent of adults.
If you have aches and pains and decide to walk barefoot, doing Achilles tendon stretching and strengthening first might benefit you. Ruptured tendons can take four to six months to heal.
4. Improves posture and gait
You no longer have an excuse for slouching, especially since barefoot walking can improve your posture and gait, helping you to move more naturally.
Approximately 30 to 60 percent of older adults fall annually, and up to 20 percent of falls are fatal or lead to hospitalization. Fortunately, you can nix the shoes to stand taller and straighter while moving around.
Barefoot walking improves sensory feedback in the feet, improving foot and leg muscle strength, balance, and motion control. Of course, risks are also associated with the benefits of going barefoot. That’s why many experts recommend minimal shoes to protect your feet.
What are minimal shoes, you ask? Look for footwear with the following characteristics:
- The sole is flat between the heel and toes
- You can easily bend or twist the sole
- The sole is broad and thin enough for you to feel the ground
- There is zero arch support
- The shoe is extremely lightweight
Traditional footwear, such as running shoes or high heels, can cause your tendons and ligaments to stiffen and weaken. A minimal shoe will enable you to lean into your body’s natural posture.
5. Barefoot walking is an excellent activity to improve mindfulness
Spending time in nature has mind-boosting advantages. It only takes 10 minutes of sitting or walking in nature to improve your mood significantly. Coupled with the benefits of walking barefoot on grass or other natural environments, you will have much better mental health.
Barefoot walking is a beneficial sensory activity that draws the mind toward the present moment. When grounding your feet, you become more aware of your surroundings and the textures rubbing against your soles.
Are you walking in the sand? Is grass bunching between your toes? Maybe you can feel twigs breaking with each step.
This mindfulness activity is excellent for reducing stress and an overactive mind. It’s also a way to immerse yourself in natural healing while reaping the benefits of the earth’s restorative powers.
Arguments opposing the benefits of walking barefoot
The benefits of walking barefoot make sense when you consider how the earth’s electrical conductivity stimulates the body’s cellular-restorative response. Nevertheless, there are still individuals who oppose doing so for several reasons.
Will barefoot walking help or hinder people who have flat feet?
Some people develop flat feet when one or both feet have no arch. Although all babies are born with flat feet, some people never form an arch – 20% of adults are naturally archless – or experience a fallen one. Flatfoot can lead to severe foot pain, leg cramping, and an unsteady gait when left untreated.
There are incredibly polarizing views as to whether barefoot walking is a help or hindrance to those with flat feet. Various professionals claim walking barefoot on hard surfaces can cause arch collapse and flat feet. They state that barefoot walking alters our biomechanical function and places stress on the feet and the rest of the body.
Barefoot proponents believe the issue is more around the strength and flexibility of the feet, and people with high arches or flat feet can enjoy the benefits of barefoot walking. Those with flat feet tend to have weak feet and often benefit from strengthening their feet, which you can achieve from activities like barefoot walking. The key is to be sensible and start slow when you begin walking barefoot.
People with high arches often have strong, tight tendons and muscles. They may benefit from foot flexibility work. If you have high arches, use myofascial release tools such as trigger point balls or massage guns to help release tight muscles.
Whether you have flat feet or high arches, start slow on your barefoot walking journey. Monitor how your feet and body feel after walking barefoot, and if you experience any issues, ease back and walk for shorter periods.
Is barefoot walking bad for plantar fasciitis?
About 2 million people are treated for plantar fasciitis annually. Plantar fasciitis occurs when the tissue in the heel becomes highly inflamed or damaged. Standing and walking on hard surfaces or frequent high-impact activities often cause this foot condition.
Similar to the flat-foot debate, several professionals state barefoot walking can lead to significant foot tension due to a lack of foot and arch support. However, another school of thought explains that the issue is more about the foot’s core strength when it comes to repetitive stress or overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis.
The bottom line? Start very small and slow, monitor how your body feels, and adjust accordingly. Focus on building excellent mobility (essentially the sweet spot of optimal strength and flexibility) for a strong foundation from the feet up.
Fungal and bacterial infections
Walking barefoot also increases exposure to fungi and bacteria. Athletes’ foot is a well-known fungal infection caused by contact with contaminated surfaces. It thrives in warm, moist environments, so you’re likelier to pick it up in and around swimming pools and showers than when taking a conscious barefoot walk along the beach or grass.
Additionally, those with a weakened immune system or diabetes are more likely to contract infections like athletes’ foot. You could also get athletes’ foot from wearing tight, closed-toe shoes, or having sweaty feet, both reasons to consider going shoeless or making a careful choice when it comes to your footwear.
You might have Athlete’s foot if the skin is cracked and peeling around the toes, or you may experience a burning sensation. Sometimes, your feet might appear inflamed or blistered.
Stepping on dangerous objects or chemicals
Of course, plenty of dangerous items can also puncture the skin or cause problems when stepped on. Broken glass on the road, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, sharp sticks, and jagged seashells are only a few common hazards.
Shoes provide ample protection against injury, and if you still want the feeling of going barefoot, minimal shoes might be the best option.
Reap the health benefits of walking barefoot
There’s little denying that the benefits of walking barefoot balance out the cons. Although it may not be best for everyone, walking barefoot outside is natural to humankind. The next time you’re at a clean park or the beach, consider removing your shoes for the ultimate grounding experience.
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