What Are the Benefits of Barefoot Shoes?

Barefoot shoes, also known as minimalist shoes or barefoot slippers, are a type of natural foot-shaped shoe that offers several health benefits. There are many barefoot shoe styles available on the market, with some developed for everyday wear and others designed for running long distances. Regardless of if you have intense fitness goals or if you’re just looking for comfortable everyday shoes, you should consider giving barefoot shoes a try.

Walking barefoot vs. wearing barefoot shoes

With the recent internet trend of people choosing to live their day-to-day lives completely barefoot, many might find themselves wondering whether it’s actually a safe practice.

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While some are ditching shoes for potential benefits like a greater range of motion, better blood circulation, and grounding, it’s important to be aware of the risks. Going barefoot can leave your feet vulnerable to physical objects, fungal infections, and harsh weather conditions. Moreover, it may worsen any preexisting foot and ankle problems.

Barefoot shoes (also known as minimalist shoes) may provide you with some of the positive benefits of walking barefoot while also offering a more protective surface.

For instance, a study comparing gait stability when walking barefoot versus in minimal shoes indicates that walking with minimalist shoes is associated with better gait performance. In other words, the findings suggest that minimalist shoes may potentially reduce the risk of falling. On the other hand, walking with minimalist shoes may not necessarily provide all of the proposed benefits that have been associated with barefoot walking.

Ultimately, choosing between walking barefoot and using minimalist shoes depends on multiple factors, including your own preferences, how active you are, and the nature of the walking surface, among others.

Are barefoot shoes good for your feet?

There is evidence out there showing that barefoot shoes are good for both your feet and posture. This is especially true if you have flat feet because this kind of footwear can stabilize and make flat arches more comfortable when walking or running.

Additionally, running in barefoot shoes may decrease the risk of getting plantar fasciitis, which is common in runners and other endurance athletes. Because barefoot shoes help improve running cadence and kinematics, there is a smaller chance of developing plantar fasciitis. This is a benefit for both everyday runners and high-mileage, elite runners.

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What are the health benefits of barefoot shoes?

In addition to potentially improving running form and overall kinematics, running or walking in barefoot footwear may offer several other health benefits, including:

  • More natural gait and running form
  • Less stress on joints
  • Less overall pain in the feet, legs, and lower back
  • Improved balance and posture
  • Higher calorie burn
  • Increased range of motion in ankle and foot

Are there any risks of barefoot shoes?

While barefoot running offers a lot of potential benefits, it does also pose some health risks. First and foremost, when wearing these kinds of shoes, your feet are less protected from the external environment. This makes it easier to be injured by stepping on things such as sharp rocks or uneven ground. It is always important to be mindful of your surroundings, but this is especially true when wearing minimalist footwear so that you can avoid potential injury.

Barefoot walking and running can take some time to get used to, so injuries may be more likely to occur if you are not yet accustomed to wearing these kinds of shoes. If you are thinking about giving them a try, it is best to wear them gradually for only an hour or so at a time until your feet have gotten used to them. As you become acclimated, you can start increasing the amount of time you wear them and the distance that you walk or run. Introducing them slowly will decrease your risk of getting injured.

Is there any science behind barefoot shoes?

There is one notable study about barefoot shoes that was conducted among the Rarámuri tribe, a group known for wearing flat, minimalist running sandals. This study looked at a sample of 35 members of the tribe, some of which wore traditional minimalist sandals and others who wore more Westernized types of supportive running shoes. The study found that participants wearing the minimalist shoe type exhibited more favorable kinematics, or muscle motion, than those running in Westernized shoes.

However, it is important to note that this study was relatively small and subsequent studies have shown inconclusive results. With that information in mind, it is reasonable to conclude that the benefits of wearing barefoot shoes might be more related to the fitness level and kinematics of the shoe wearer themselves, and less related to the shoe type.

Should you try barefoot shoes?

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Barefoot shoes are an excellent option for many people, but some specific individuals may want to avoid them. Those with diabetes and resulting diabetic neuropathy should probably avoid wearing barefoot shoes. Diabetic neuropathy causes less sensation in the feet, making it difficult to tell when an injury has occurred, so barefoot shoes are a potentially dangerous option for walking or running.

For individuals suffering from bunions or hammer toes, barefoot shoes may not be a great option. The stress on the feet from zero shoe support can actually worsen these conditions, so a shoe with more support is highly suggested.

Final word

Choosing to wear barefoot shoes is a personal decision and a topic that has been debated for many years. While not for everyone, if you are someone with strong feet and no prior foot issues or other medical conditions, barefoot shoes for walking or running may be a great option for you to try. When choosing a barefoot shoe to try, be sure to choose the correct size and style for your foot shape and start wearing them for short periods of time to prevent injuries.

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