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Does Walking Barefoot Have Any Benefits and Should You Try It?

Barefoot walking has deep historical roots, with figures like Socrates among those known to have practiced it. While using footwear dates back around 40,000 years, many cultures and tribes would still walk barefoot or with minimal footwear. Currently, there's a rising popularity of interest in barefoot walking, and whether it is truly beneficial or just another passing trend? Let's delve into the potential benefits and dangers associated with this practice.

Benefits of walking barefoot

In recent years, researchers have delved into the study of barefoot locomotion, encompassing both walking and running without footwear. Additionally, barefoot walking has gained attention as a practice promoting grounding, also known as 'earthing', which involves reconnecting the human body with the earth's surface. However, existing research is very limited to substantiate these benefits.

Based on findings from limited research, here are a few potential benefits of walking barefoot:

Enhanced posture and balance

Engaging in barefoot walking can contribute to enhancing overall stability. The human foot has 26 bones and 19 muscles that form a longitudinal foot arch, which helps support the entire weight of the human body. By distributing weight evenly, the foot arch plays an important role in maintaining balance during various activities. Using foot wear constantly, reduces foot width and increases stride length, whereas barefoot walking helps in even distribution of pressure.

Improved circulation

One study have observed a potential link between grounding and reduced blood viscosity (thickness). Increased blood viscosity is often associated with metabolic disorders such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Lowered blood thickness may contribute to improved circulation.

Better sleep

Research studies on grounding have shown that sleeping grounded correlates with regulating cortisol levels, thus helping improve sleep patterns. A studied group of individuals who slept grounded reported falling asleep more quickly and experiencing fewer instances of waking up during the night compared to those who did not ground. These findings suggest that earthing may offer a simple yet effective solution for enhancing sleep quality and promoting overall health. However, these results are to be interpreted with caution as the researchers used grounding mats instead of barefoot walking.

Stress relief

Earthing has been shown to reduce overall stress and modulate autonomic nervous system responses. Researchers observed reduced skin conductance (a measure of stress) and noted stable heart rates among individuals who engaged in earthing compared to those who didn't. Again, a word of caution that these earthing studies have used grounding devices instead of barefoot walking. Further research about barefoot walking is necessary.

How to start walking barefoot?

Barefoot walking can be a big change for individuals who use shoes indoors and outdoors. Here are a few tips for making this lifestyle change:

  • Consult your healthcare provider before you start walking barefoot.
  • Consider using barefoot shoes or socks if you are not ready for barefoot walking.
  • Start small by walking barefoot indoors, like sitting at the dining table or work desk with bare feet.
  • As your feet adapt, increase the duration and distance of your barefoot walks.
  • Monitor how you feel and pay attention to any discomfort. If you do experience pain, stop and give your feet a rest.

How often should you be walking barefoot?

While there are no standardized time one should be barefoot, a gradual change to barefoot walking is found to be beneficial. For instance, in a research study, children practiced barefoot walking inside or outside the home or in school for at least 45 minutes every day. Children followed the protocol five times a week for eight weeks. The study showed an improvement in foot posture and no adverse effects were noted. In conclusion, 45 min/day 5 days a week for 8 weeks may be the time required to notice the benefits of barefoot walking.

Depending on their health, 10 minutes a day of barefoot walk indoors may be a good start for adults. Increase walk time in gradual increments over a few weeks. Next, you can gradually start walking outdoors on surfaces such as running tracks, yards, parks, or beaches. Avoid dirty or unhygienic surfaces, and clean your feet after an outdoor walk.

Dangers of walking barefoot

Although walking barefoot may have potential benefits, not everyone can adopt this practice, including people with certain medical conditions, such as neuropathy. Nonetheless, healthy individuals adopting barefoot walking still need to be aware of the potential risks.

  • Injury. Foreign bodies such as glass or stone can get embedded in the foot. Additionally, injuries from hot or cold surfaces are possible during barefoot walking.
  • Infections. While walking on dirty surfaces, feet can contract fungal or bacterial infections.
  • Tetanus (lockjaw). Bacteria entering the body through cuts or puncture wounds, especially on the feet exposed to contaminated soil or surfaces, may cause tetanus infection.
  • Warts. These are a result of viral infection caused due to walking on dirty surfaces.
  • Structural damage. Footwear offers structural support, and individuals may experience skin impairment or muscle weakness while barefoot walking.

At the same time, being barefoot is not recommended for individuals with the following health issues:

  • Diabetes
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Non-healing or chronic wounds
  • Weakened immune system
  • Foot ulcerations or infections

It's always best to consult your doctor before you start any lifestyle changes. Your doctor may suggest therapeutic footwear along with comfortable socks.

Alternatives of walking barefoot

For those who cannot practice barefoot walking, there are alternative options to consider. Minimalist shoes offer increased sensory contact with the ground, providing a similar experience to walking barefoot. In addition, grounding mats provide a convenient way to connect with the Earth indoors during activities like napping or meditation.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that these products offer good alternatives to barefoot walking. However, scientific research or clinical trials are necessary to know more about the effectiveness of these products.

In a nutshell, initial evidence suggests that barefoot walking may help in improving foot posture and overall well-being. However, further clinical trials are necessary to understand its exact benefits. Walking barefoot is usually well-suited for all people in all age groups. However, if you have a diagnosis of diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, or foot ulcers, talk to your doctor before you begin walking barefoot. Choose walking surfaces wisely to minimize the potential risks of injury or infection. Barefoot walking can be practiced indoors or outdoors in parks, yards, or beaches.

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