Mankind walked barefoot for thousands of years before footwear was invented. Today, modern man is rediscovering the health benefits ancient cultures knew about centuries ago. One of the questions being floated is whether walking barefoot has any health benefits.
Various studies reveal that walking barefoot can be beneficial. However, there is also an argument that shoes provide benefits. While this is true, finding the right balance between when to wear shoes and when to go barefoot can play a significant role in the health of your toenails, feet, and legs.
We look at the various ways walking barefoot can help and inhibit your health. We discuss when it is safe to go barefoot and what precautions you should take before losing the shoes. We also explain the dangers of walking barefoot and discuss the pros and cons of footwear, and what you can do to take the best care of your feet to prevent injury, deformities, and infections.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Is Walking with Bare Feet for You?
- 1.1 Are Shoes Good for Your Feet?
- 1.2 Understanding the Anatomy of the Foot
- 1.3 What Are the Effects of Walking Barefoot?
- 1.4 What Are the Benefits of Walking Barefoot?
- 1.4.1 1] Strengthens the Immune System
- 1.4.2 2] Regulates the Nervous System
- 1.4.3 3] Improves Eyesight
- 1.4.4 4] Reduce Pain and Inflammation
- 1.4.5 5] Improved Sleep
- 1.4.6 6] Prevention of Painful Foot Conditions
- 1.4.7 7] Loosens Tense Muscles
- 1.4.8 8] Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
- 1.4.9 9] Eases Menstrual Cramps
- 1.4.10 Walking Barefoot at Home
- 1.4.11 Walking Barefoot Outside
- 1.4.12 Walking Barefoot on Grass
- 1.5 What Medical Problems Can You Get from Walking Barefoot?
- 1.6 What Are the Dangers of Walking Barefoot?
- 1.7 What Are the Disadvantages of Walking Barefoot?
- 1.8 Is Walking Barefoot on Concrete Recommended?
- 1.9 Read Our Latest Posts:
Is Walking with Bare Feet for You?
Scientific studies have found that walking barefoot in the right conditions help us reconnect with the natural energy of the Earth. What is most interesting is that there is a correlation between the electrons in the earth’s surface and the impact they have on the human body.
Since it was discovered there are potential health rewards in ions, the practice “earthing” is becoming an increasingly popular pastime. When we first start to walk as toddlers, feeling the ground beneath is helpful for balance and mobility. Walking barefoot is how we learn to coordinate our muscles and strengthen the tendons in the legs and toes.
As we get older, we still need contact with the Earth. Not only that but walking barefoot also helps to stabilize your cortisol rhythm and create balance with the bioelectrical environment. Scientists have found that walking and running without footwear may be more beneficial for your feet than wearing shoes.
- One study compared 180 people from different backgrounds; tribes from Sothu and Zulu in South Africa, and Europeans with the feet of a 2000-year-old skeleton. It revealed that the feet of our ancient ancestors were healthier than people in the 21st Century.
So if our ancient ancestors had healthier feet than we do today, should we be questioning how detrimental shoes are for our feet?
Are Shoes Good for Your Feet?
Shoes have become a vital part of our lives. In western cultures, it is almost unthinkable not to be without footwear. Yet, only 20 percent of the world’s population today wear shoes all of the time.
There are some terrains, and days, when you would never even consider walking barefoot. Footwear protects your feet and keeps them comfortable and warm. Even lightweight shoes, such as sandals and flip-flops, have their uses.
However, experts now think that the wearing shoes before preschool, and continuing the habit into your adult lives could be inhibiting the nerve centers in your feet. As a result, the tiny muscles become weaker and less healthy.
The argument is that shoes extend your stride thus is not aligned with your natural gait. Walking barefoot helps to train the body to take natural strides in line with your gait. In doing so, you improve posture and balance.
If your shoes are too tight, worn or do not balance the weight out across your feet, you may not be walking properly. As a result, you could develop abnormalities in your legs and hips that cause other problems later in life.
Studies show that long-term use of footwear does result in anatomical and functional changes. This includes reduced foot width and uneven loads on the balls of your feet due to improper shoe structure.
However, the same study also shows that minimalist footwear is not too different than walking barefoot. Light, flexible shoes, slippers or flip-flops are similar to walking barefoot as they appear to reduce differences in gait and give you an alignment that is closer to your natural gait.
If your shoes are too tight, worn or do not balance the weight out across your feet, you may not be walking properly. As a result, you could develop abnormalities in your legs and hips that cause other problems later in life.
More Research is Needed…
Whereas there is conclusive evidence that shoes can inhibit nerves and alter the anatomical structure, there is not much research to firm up the health benefits of walking barefoot. Having said that, there is substantial evidence to suggest there are significant health benefits.
More research is needed to test health benefits concerning foot problems and gait deficiencies in adults. With more studies, we will be able to determine just how much shoes can pose difficulties and thus find solutions by providing people with more opportunities to walk barefoot.
What we do know is that weight is distributed more evenly across the foot when walking barefoot. This softens the vertical impact and thus is more likely to cause structural damage to the anatomy over the long term.
This will inevitably improve the quality of life for seniors. It is very common for older people to suffer from bone deformities and gait deficiencies. Could this be because of a lifelong reliance on wearing shoes?
Understanding the Anatomy of the Foot
To understand how shoes and walking barefoot impacts your feet, it’s essential to have an understanding of the anatomy of the foot.
Feet are sophisticated parts of the body. There are some 72,000 nerves centers, 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 essential muscles, tendons and ligaments, all of which are needed to support your weight and provide balance.
Now you know how complex the structure of your foot is, it’s easy to see why some experts feel that shoes can make feet passive and unconscious of the role we rely on them for.
This conclusion is also a sentiment that is shared by many leading sports trainers that believe running shoes are deceiving the body. There have been advocates of running without shoes for several decades now.
The camp that argues for the case of going barefoot claim footwear can have a detrimental effect on your feet, ankles, and bones. Shoes that fit you poorly create an environment for your feet that can be counter-productive to your natural gait.
Furthermore, shoes can cause other foot ailments including bunions, corns, blisters, fissures, metatarsalgia, and abnormalities. Walking and running barefoot, on the other hand, allows your feet to be self-supportive and build strength.
What Are the Effects of Walking Barefoot?
Wearing shoes also means you lose much of your connection with Mother Earth. Scientific research in recent years has discovered that making an effort to spend more time barefoot in nature can provide mental and physical health benefits.
The practice of grounding is subsequently becoming common. It is believed that touching natural ground such, as soil, sand or grass allows your body to absorb negatively charged electrons from the Earth’s electromagnetic field.
Thanks to scientific research, the simple act of walking barefoot is finding its way back into the public conscious. Books such as ‘Earthing’ by Clint Ober and Barefoot Walking by Michael Sanders show how the body needs to be consistently calibrated by the natural rhythm of the Earth.
The discoveries found that earthing reduces the electromagnetic charge in the body. We are continually picking up energies from the earth’s electromagnetic field, but we are getting overloaded with positive energies that can have harmful effects on your mental and physical health.
In 1952, Dr. Schumann discovered the circadian rhythm of the Earth vibrates at a rate of 7.82-8hz – the same rhythm as the human brain when adequately balanced. The electrons you receive through Earthing, therefore, help you to reset your biological clock and restore the balance of positive and negative energies.
You may have noticed that your energy levels are higher and balanced after spending time in nature. This is because you pick up higher frequencies of energy emitted in the natural world. As a result, they give you more vitality.
Although it is not always possible to find natural environments when living in concrete cities, it’s worth the effort of walking barefoot in your garden, park or beach as often as possible.
What Are the Benefits of Walking Barefoot?
Walking barefoot used to be considered something that only hippies did. And they are still often ridiculed. However, an increasing number of studies have determined the hippies were right all along. Walking barefoot does have a surprising number of benefits.
1] Strengthens the Immune System
A comprehensive report in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health revealed that walking barefoot can decrease the number of white blood cells and replace them with red blood cells.
Red blood cells transport oxygen through the body and are essential for improving health. The more oxygen the cells of your body receive, the better your body can function.
However, red blood cells typically only survive for 120 days, so need replenishing to support the immune system. It is well-known that a healthy bloodstream contains more red blood cells than white blood cells.
That’s not to say that white blood cells are not necessary, they are. White blood cells produce antibodies that are needed for fighting harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi. They also remove dead blood cells and clear out foreign debris such as dust and asbestos.
2] Regulates the Nervous System
The nervous system plays a vital role in your well-being. Research shows that allowing your body to come into direct contact with the earth regulates emotions and balances the nervous system.
As a result, it is possible that earthing can be used to reduce stress and anxiety levels that are prevalent in today’s society. As mentioned earlier, the reason for this is because the negatively charged electrons you receive from the Earth counter-balance the positively charged protons you receive from the electromagnetic field on a daily basis.
3] Improves Eyesight
The foot has numerous pressure points that connect with the rest of the body. One of these connections goes all the way up to the nerves in the eye. It is believed that walking barefoot on the grass every morning stimulates the pressure point in your feet and can improve eyesight.
4] Reduce Pain and Inflammation
The electrons you receive from the Earth’s surface help to replenish and stabilize the bioelectrical environment in your body. Other studies have shown that electrons form antioxidant molecules neutralize free radicals and reduce inflammation.
Although more scientific research is needed in this area, the assumption held by the science community is that electrons from the Earth will have the same or similar impact on pain reduction.
A study involving a dozen volunteers that were asked to sleep on conductive mattress pads that mimicked the effects of sleeping on the ground found that the cortisol levels, stress, pain and sleep patterns significantly improved.
5] Improved Sleep
Another study performed by the Department of Ambulatory Cardiology Military Clinical Hospital also discovered that earthing reduces stress and induces relaxation. Subsequently, participants reported they had a better night’s sleep or cured their insomnia entirely.
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine support similar findings. The report attests that people exposed to grounding enjoyed a better night’s sleep compared to when they did not walk barefoot.
6] Prevention of Painful Foot Conditions
The influence of electrons from the Earth is also thought to improve physiological processes. Patrick Mckeon Ph.D., a foot expert in the US spent years studying the core of the human foot and found that walking barefoot prevents painful foot complaints such as plantar fasciitis, bursitis, and tendinitis.
The doctor explained the foot core has a feedback loop between muscles in the foot and neural connections that pass messages from the brain. Injuries occur when the feedback loop is interrupted – the cause of which is shoes.
Furthermore, McKeon claims walking barefoot can help improve the recovery time associated with foot common foot injuries, together with balance and posture.
7] Loosens Tense Muscles
A pilot study on the effects of grounding in 2010, found that direct contact with electrons alters the immune system. This can help alleviate the pain of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after engaging in physical exercise.
It is also thought that earthing can loosen muscles in individuals that have been inactive – such as sitting in an office all day. Because the Earth’s electrons reduce free radicals, walking barefoot can help release tensions the body is subjected to on a daily basis.
8] Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
Another study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine discusses how walking barefoot increases red blood cells which helps improve the flow of blood.
More red cells in the bloodstream improve circulation. When there are too many white blood cells, clumping can occur. This has been linked with heart disease.
9] Eases Menstrual Cramps
The correlation between walking barefoot and the reduction of pain is also thought to help women relieve the pain of menstrual cramps. Walking barefoot may have the same benefits as painkillers but without the side-effects.
Walking Barefoot at Home
It can have advantages for health and physiological structure – providing you have the right type of floor surface. Your feet are designed for walking on soft and undulating surfaces.
It is therefore thought that tiled and wooden floors may not be cushioned enough to relieve the natural stresses felt in the structure of the foot – and socks do not provide sufficient support.
Thick carpets, on the other hand, accommodate the contours of the feet and allow the outside of the foot to sink into the surface. This supports the instep of the foot and the collapse of the arch.
Walking Barefoot Outside
The same rules apply outdoors as they do indoors. Walking without shoes on soft surfaces help to stretch and strengthen the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your feet. Support is also given to the ankles, calves, knee, and back which helps prevent strains.
Not only that but walking barefoot is said to help clear the mind because you become more concentrated about where you are planting your feet. The attention you pay means you are living in the moment.
Anybody that is familiar with meditation or Buddhist philosophy knows that “being present” helps to relieve the internal chatter and improve your ability to concentrate for longer.
Walking Barefoot on Grass
Taking a daily walk on grass for 10-15 minutes a day can help re-balance your proton-electron energies and help reset your biological clock and clear your mind.
If you are new to earthing, we recommend walking on grass in your shoes for the first five minutes. Then take them off; you will notice the difference in your body’s energy once you start walking around barefoot for a while.
Studies show that the disconnect modern living creates can unsettle the energies in body and mind. As a result, we are losing connection with ourselves. Author Richard Louv calls it a vitamin-N deficiency – a lack of nature.
It is believed that direct contact with nature performs wonders for your physical and mental health. This is because your feet have acupressure points for all the major faculties and organs of your body.
Because grass is soft and the ground is uneven, the surface molds into the contours of your feet in such a way you get a foot massage from Mother Nature. Walking barefoot on grass, therefore, stimulates pressure points and helps to restore the equilibrium that is needed to improve your overall health.
What Medical Problems Can You Get from Walking Barefoot?
Feet have some 72,000 nerve endings. However, wearing footwear weakens the nerves, and they eventually become less effective. Getting into the habit of walking barefoot whenever you have the opportunity helps to invigorate your nerve centers.
When your bare skin comes into direct contact with the earth, the negative ions in the soil balance positive ions that you receive from the electromagnetic field. It has been known that a balance of these energies improves your overall health.
The sensitivity of the pressure points on the feet also helps to unblock the thousands of meridian channels which allow energy to pass through the body. In eastern cultures, these channels are known as nadis through which ida (negative ions) and pingala (positive ions) pass.
You can benefit from walking barefoot around the house, but hard surfaces do not work as well as natural surfaces such as grass, soil or sand. Flexible surfaces mould into your feet and work the acupuncture centers more precisely.
That’s not to say that walking barefoot at home does not have any effect whatsoever. On the contrary, simply allowing your feet to connect with the floor will leave positive impressions on your posture, balance, and alignment.
What Are the Dangers of Walking Barefoot?
While walking barefoot has many positive advantages, there are also some health concerns you should be aware of. It is important to know the right environments and moments in which to walk barefoot.
When you’re walking without protection on your feet, there is a risk of occurring an injury or picking up bacterial, viral or fungal infections. Doctors warn people to avoid walking barefoot in public spaces such as swimming pools and changing rooms that are dark and moist.
Various infections grow in damp, dark places and are highly contagious. Athlete’s foot, for example, relies on a carrier such as a human or animal.
However, there is also evidence to suggest that people with weak immune systems are most susceptible to contracting fungal infections such as athlete’s foot and toenail fungus.
Before walking barefoot in nature, be aware of your surroundings. Choose places that are not littered with bottles and other types of rubbish. Broken glass and other sharp objects can be problematic in parks and on beaches.
If you are new to earthing or have sensitive feet, you should choose soft surfaces to walk sans shoes.
Avoid pebbly beaches or fields that have clumps of hard soil that feel hard against your feet. It may take a while to build up a tolerance to harder, uneven surfaces. Don’t forget your feet are used to the protective comfort provided by your shoes.
Can You Get Hookworms from Walking Barefoot?
One of the dangers doctors often warn people about when walking barefoot is hookworm. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that around 576-740 million people are infected with hookworm around the globe.
Hookworms are intestinal parasites that live in contaminated soil. They are a larval worm that typically enters the human body through contact with the skin. Feet are a common entry point.
Once hookworms enter the body, they live in the small intestine and lay eggs which are passed out through feces. If an infected person defecates outdoors, hookworms will spread into the surrounding soil.
Hookworm eggs mature and hatch quickly. The resulting larvae penetrate the skin and settle in the intestines. For most people, the infection has few symptoms other than gastrointestinal – which may not appear out of the ordinary for most people. You may also experience some itching.
However, some people will suffer more serious consequences. The most notable sign is a rash which can be checked and diagnosed by a doctor. In serious cases, a loss of protein or blood may occur, in some cases leading to anemia. Weight loss, diarrhea, loss of appetite and abdominal pain will also occur in severe cases.
If you do notice abnormalities that do not disappear after walking barefoot in the soil, consult a doctor. Hookworm infections are easily treated with medication.
What Are the Disadvantages of Walking Barefoot?
Despite its many benefits, earthing should be approached with caution. It’s not advisable to rush into walking barefoot on all types of terrain. After growing accustomed to the comfort of footwear, you can create a shock for your feet if you start walking across uneven ground.
When you first remove your shoes, you instantly relinquish the padding which supports the arches of the feet. If you have sensitive feet, walking on hard ground can be quite painful and could cause more pressure in your ankle and knee joints.
Remember, the more uneven and harder the terrain is, the more impact the ground has on your bone structure. Therefore, walk on soft, flat surfaces that lower the risk of applying a shock to your feet, ankles, and legs helps to strengthen important areas.
It is not advisable to immediately start running barefoot as you increase the risk of injury. This is true for soft and hard surfaces.
Once your feet become accustomed to walking barefoot, the rest of your body also becomes attuned to your surroundings. One study found that patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee softened the load on the knee joints after their body acclimatized to walking barefoot.
There are some environments where it is possible to pick up various infections such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. These types of microbes like damp, dark places and are rife in public changing room, swimming pools, and saunas.
Although it seems natural to go barefoot in these types of environments, the reverse is true. The best practice is to wear flip-flops or protective socks in public places that have damp floors.
The same rules apply at home if you have foot fungus such as athlete’s foot. Wear a protective covering around the house and in the shower and do not share towels or shoes with family members or housemates.
Walking barefoot outside is naturally fraught with sharp objects that could cut your foot and pierce the skin. Be careful about the areas you choose to walk barefoot and also be careful where you put your feet. Grass and beaches may be soft but they can also be hiding jagged edges that pose a threat.
Walking without shoes should be avoided if you have diabetes as it can lead to foot ulceration.
Is Walking Barefoot on Concrete Recommended?
Studies show that walking barefoot on concrete may not be the best option for earthing. Hard surfaces impact on your ankles and knee joints together with the plantar fasciitis, the band of skin that stretches from your heel to your toes.
Wearing footwear helps to eliminate some of the pressure on the plantar and various joints, and tendons. Newbies to earthing, or people with sensitive feet or weak joints, are advised to avoid walking barefoot on concrete and other hard surfaces until you build up your resistance.
Given the overwhelming evidence to support earthing does have significant health benefits, walking barefoot is a habit you should engage in more often. Shoes have their uses of course, but you should be questioning whether footwear could be causing damage over the long-term.
Before you rush into walking barefoot, however, take precautions. Although losing the shoes can be liberating, walking barefoot can also feel uncomfortable for some people at first. Not to mention the various dangers.
The question of walking safety may seem absurd given you walk barefoot almost every day at some point. However, it is important to consider that your feet, ankles, and legs have adapted to life in footwear and are no longer connected with the natural contours of the ground like they were when you were a child.
If you are in the camp that has become reliant on footwear, it is a good idea to do more research around earthing and pick up some tips about how to enjoy the benefits of walking barefoot without the risk of injury.
Walking barefoot is a cost-free pastime and a natural way of helping to restore balance to your body and potentially boosting numerous aspects of your health. Once your feet become used to the natural contour of the earth, you may want to experiment with challenging surfaces such as pebbles and soil and give your acupuncture points a strong and healthy workout.