Does it really matter if you walk barefoot or in your shoes? Absolutely.
Walking barefoot offers many unexpected benefits. It helps strengthen the muscles and tendons of the feet and lower legs. It improves balance, mobility, and posture, and has a positive impact on circulation and the nervous system. There is also the more mysterious “Earthing” effect or energy flow between the Earth and our feet, creating better health and wellbeing.
Check out barefoot walking’s top 7 health benefits, how to get into it, and where to go barefoot.
1. Helps foot flexibility and health
Footwear that is very sturdy, ill-fitting, or awkward (such as high heels), puts increased pressure on your feet. It also prevents them from moving naturally. This can result in pressure points, bone deformations, and stiffened tendons.
Walking barefoot is a convenient and easy way to improve foot flexibility. The feet are allowed to move more naturally, engaging and stretching all the muscles and tendons in the foot as intended.
2. Increases ankle strength and arch support
Walking barefoot works your feet, ankle, and lower leg muscles much more than in shoes. This results in increased muscle strength in the feet and lower legs, and also better arch support.
Increased strength and flexibility in the feet can also be a key factor in easing any aches and pains.
3. Supports better balance
Barefoot walking is a great way to engage and stretch all the muscles and tendons in the feet, ankles, and lower legs in a more balanced way. In turn, this improves overall balance and stability and as a result, reduces the risk of injury and falls.
Walking barefoot also improves body coordination and proprioception (a sense of where your body is in space). This has a positive effect on body posture and balance, as well as brain function.
4. Increases circulation
Barefoot walking will improve your circulation. When you walk barefoot, muscles in your feet and calves contract and expand, causing blood vessels to contract and expand. This process increases blood flow to and from the feet.
Similar benefits occur for the lymph, the fluid that drains from cells and tissues and which can get trapped in the lower legs. Barefoot walking increases muscle contraction and relaxation which helps move lymph fluid out of the feet and lower legs and decrease any swelling.
5. Improves inflammation, pain and immunity
A study published in the Journal of Inflammation Research showed that daily barefoot walking increased white cell counts and boosted immunity, together with significant reductions in pain and inflammation.
Are you susceptible to colds and cases of flu, have low-level chronic pain, or suffer from inflamed joints or muscles?
Stripping of shoes and barefoot walking on a daily basis might be just the thing then.
6. Supports overall well-being
Taking shoes off and taking a walk in some lush, moist grass can be an incredibly relaxing and enjoyable experience, immediately replenishing our energy.
Our feet are full of start and endpoints of our body’s energy meridians – also known as acupressure points.
Barefoot walking activates these points evenly, in turn stimulating the body’s nervous system and organs. This has a regulating effect on sleep, body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure.
Surprisingly, the grounding effect of the earth’s surface also increases the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, again promoting better sleep patterns and alleviating symptoms of mild depression.
7. Gets you in touch with the earth
The connection between our feet and the earth has a very grounding effect.
The pads on our feet contain a lot of nerve sensors. Changes in pressure and temperature stimulate these nerve endings, producing an incredible amount of sensory input. Most of the time, we are not even consciously aware of it.
This effect is sometimes called “Earthing”, where we pick up the earth’s electrical charge through the sensors of our feet. The free electrons released from the earth neutralize the positively charged free radicals in our bodies. In turn, this creates better health and wellbeing.
Even science suggests that Earthing is an effective health strategy, with beneficial effects on chronic stress, inflammation, pain, poor sleep, and many common health disorders such as cardiovascular disease.
What keeps people from walking barefoot?
Our bodies are designed to walk barefoot – as our ancestors did. Over time, they responded to related injuries and risks making footwear, mostly from natural materials.
Today, people wear shoes for most occasions. This is in part due to the urban environments we live in and the risk of injury or infection from dirt or debris.
As a result, walking barefoot may require a conscious effort. It is not always suitable, especially on very dirty or rough surfaces, in very cold weather, or in areas where barefoot walking is not socially acceptable. However, this does not need to prevent us from taking off shoes and get in touch with the earth.
The best places to walk barefoot
A number of places naturally lend themselves to staying or walking barefoot without risk of injury or causing any issues. These are:
- at home
- in your garden
- on grassy fields
- in the park
- on smooth sidewalks and public squares
- at the beach and along other waterways
Some forms of exercise actively discourage the wearing of footwear. For example, Yoga encourages practicing barefoot in order to create a connection with the earth. Pilates, Tai Chi, and any water-based exercise are other activities that discourage footwear.
How to start barefoot walking
One of the easiest ways to stay barefoot year-round is around the home – even if you clad your feet in socks. From here, you can range into the garden or a terrace if you have access to one.
If you are serious about getting into more structured barefoot walking, make sure you start slowly.
Start by taking off your shoes while walking on the grass or sidewalk. Or, build barefoot walking into an activity you already do, such as walking to work or a public transport hub, or in a nearby park or field.
Build up barefoot walking by starting with 10 minutes. After this, add 5-minutes every day until you reach 20-30 minutes, depending on how things progress.
If you experience pain, reduce the time or give yourself a break. As an extra precaution, take set of socks and shoes with you in case your feet get too sore.
Alternatives to barefoot walking: minimalist footwear
Are you hesitant to strip your feet and go barefoot? A great alternative is minimalist shoes and footwear.
These not only make for a more comfortable and safer experience, but they can also improve your foot health and boost your happiness. They are the closest thing to barefoot walking without actually doing the real thing.
Minimalist shoes are designed to be lighter and offer less support than traditional sneakers. This can make them more comfortable on your feet.
However, you might also experience some soreness if you don’t take time to break them in.
Is it bad to walk barefoot?
In some cases, it is definitely advised not to walk barefoot. This includes places with sharp surfaces and materials that are simply too risky or injurious to walk on.
There are also a number of areas where it may not be socially acceptable to walk barefoot such as in public buildings, restaurants, or at some public gatherings. In these instances, it pays to ask or just use personal judgment based on what you think others’ sensitivities may be.
Some people may also have foot conditions such as collapsed arches, bunions or plantar fasciitis. For them, wearing supportive footwear may be essential.
Even in these instances, walking barefoot for a short period of time, especially on soft surfaces such as grass or sand, can still be a pleasure.
Does walking barefoot make your feet dry?
Socks and footwear tend to keep feet moist. In contrast, barefoot walking or even walking in open-heeled shoes such as jandals have the tendency to dry them out. This can result in cracked heels for some.
If you have a tendency to develop cracked heels then more attention and care is definitely required. Consider buying a pumice stone to gently scrape off any dry skin from your heels after you shower, followed by rubbing in a healthy foot lotion or oil.
If your cracked heels have become infected, it may be time to visit a podiatrist to receive some extra attention.
Can walking barefoot help plantar fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is a reasonably common condition. It develops when the dense band of tissue underneath your heel that connects the heel bone to the toes becomes inflamed. The condition can cause sharp pain in the heel when stepping on it, especially in the morning.
It’s important to rest an inflamed heel and stop activities that aggravate it. This includes barefoot walking, especially on hard surfaces.
However, gentle barefoot walking on soft surfaces such as grass or sand is likely to have beneficial effects as this will help stretch the foot arches, one of the possible treatments to alleviate plantar fasciitis.
Effects of walking barefoot on cold floor
Some people are concerned about the health effects o walking barefoot on cold and especially tiles floors – for example whether this could cause colds or arthritis.
The short answer to this is: it depends.
- If you live in a cold climate and struggle to keep warm, then spending a lot of time barefoot on cold floor will limit your body’s ability to maintain temperature equilibrium.
- If you live in a hot climate, then a colder floor will provide relief and help cool the body down.
But: spending many hours daily barefoot on a cold, hard floor such as tiles or concrete will not be good for your overall and foot health. This applies in particular if you stand in one place. In such an instance, a rubber mat and supportive footwear will be beneficial.
The pros and cons of barefoot walking: the final word
Putting on shoes reduces your feet’s natural ability to sense what’s happening beneath them.
This can lead to weakness in the foot muscles and tendons, improper gait and posture, and increased risk of injury and falling. We also lose touch with the earth and a sense of grounding.
Walking barefoot has many surprising benefits, including strengthened muscles, tendons, and ligaments, stronger arches, better balance and posture, reduced inflammation and pain, better immunity, and also an improved sense of wellbeing.
There are some situations where barefoot walking is not appropriate – including on sharp surfaces, places where it is not socially acceptable, or when you have an underlying condition that may be aggravated by barefoot walking.
However, you will find that a little bit of barefoot walking, especially on grass or sand, is highly beneficial for both your physical and mental health.
Barefoot walking is also simply a liberating and fun thing to do.