Is Being Barefoot Bad For You?

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Fun fact: Did you know that you are not violating any United States Health Department or OSHA (Occupational Health & Safety Administration) code by being barefoot in a commercial place? Now, you might be violating the property owner’s dress code, and it’s not really advisable to be running around without shoes in the city or in stores. But it’s interesting to realize how deeply entrenched shoe customs have become in our society.

A barefoot childhood is one of those rare equalizers – no matter who we are today, most of us can say we were happily barefoot at some point as a kid. But in the last decade or so, being barefoot has become much, much more than just a phase of life for children. In fact, it’s become a way of life for some adults (also known as “Earthers”). And if you dig a little deeper into our history as humans, it’s almost every culture’s original footwear where climate allowed: nothing. Just our feet and the earth, and it makes sense really. For one thing, we’re the only animal on this planet who has chosen to wear footwear. And when our survival meant being hyper-aware and vigilant of our surroundings at all times, what better way to do that than actually touching the earth we tread?

Yet when you get into a discussion about being barefoot (also called “Earthing”) or read about barefoot running today, you may get some wildly different answers about what’s best for you. We’re all individuals with unique needs, so the answer may be a little different for everyone. Read on to peruse the facts we’ve gathered about being barefoot, and discover what’s right for you.

Being Barefoot: The Facts

Studies have shown many, many health benefits to being barefoot regularly. The advantages to your physical well-being are undeniable, not to mention the bonus points of the positive psychological effects of spending time in nature. Here are a few of health profits you stand to gain if you choose to routinely ditch the clodhoppers:

Heart Health. Direct physical contact with the Earth can reduce the viscosity of your blood, which is a huge component of cardiovascular disease. This is because the Earth emits a natural electrical charge, which in turn “charges” your red blood cells and reduces clumping.

Balance & Proprioception. When barefoot, we have better control of our footstrike, or how our foot hits the ground, which leads to better balance and proprioception (our awareness of where our body is in relation to the world around us).

Biomechanics. Due to receiving direct feedback from the surface we are walking on, the biomechanics of our feet are greatly improved. In turn, this can improve the biomechanics of our knees, hips, and so on.

Injury, discomfort or deformity prevention. Many people are out there wearing shoes that don’t quite fit correctly, or they are just on their feet all day for work. Whatever the case, the fact is that many common foot issues – such as bunions, fallen arches, hammertoes, etc, can be prevented or relieved by not wearing shoes 24/7.

Better Sleep & Productive Rest. In several different studies, participants slept on a mattress that served as a conductor to mimic the electrical charges of sleeping directly on the Earth’s surface. After the studies many significant health benefits were noted, including a decrease in cortisol hormones and a “resynchronization” of natural circadian rhythms leading to better sleep for almost all participants; certain important mineral quantities were increased, a thyroid-stimulating hormone was released, and blood glucose levels were lowered in those with diabetes.

The Surfaces We Walk On

If you’re a parent, you probably know that you’re supposed to let your toddler learn to walk barefoot because that is recommended by health professionals everywhere. Why? Because in order to learn to walk properly, small children need to receive feedback from the ground they are walking on. Wearing shoes can inhibit their learning how to control the muscles in their little feet.

So why do we start shoving our feet into shoes so soon after learning to walk – what changes as we grow older? Honestly, not a whole lot. According to researchers who studied the feet of 2,000-year-old skeletons compared to our modern dew-beaters (19th-century slang for feet – because they “beat the dew” off the grass) showed that our feet today are much less healthy than they were thousands of years ago. That’s a little mind-boggling, considering how advanced our science, medical and technology fields are now. But in the late 1700’s an Englishman discovered a better way to produce concrete,  and that paved the way (couldn’t help it) to our modern world now which is virtually covered in the unyielding stuff.

This is where the balance and the timing of being barefoot come in – all of the health benefits listed above are for when you are outdoors on a natural surface, such as grass, clay, dirt or rocky terrain. Man-made surfaces such as concrete, asphalt, cement or rubber do not have the same conductive abilities as do natural surfaces and therefore don’t have the same health benefits (in fact, they can cause injury – for example, walking barefoot on concrete is not recommended).

Recommended Safety Measures for Would-Be “Earthers”

As mentioned above, don’t bother walking or running barefoot on man-made surfaces because it will more likely cause problems than help your health. Instead, take a little time each day to walk on a natural surface outdoors.  Other precautions to take if you decide to incorporate being barefoot into your everyday life:

  • Make the change slowly. Your feet have been used to wearing shoes your whole life – take it easy at first, and just do a little each day to start.
  • Check the bottoms of your feet after each barefoot venture: as time goes on, you will lose a little bit of feeling and it’s important to check for any cuts or injuries that you might not notice without looking.
  • Don’t worry too much about the fear-mongering “you’ll get worms!” warnings. The main cause for concern there is for a species of worm called the Hookworm, and it only thrives in moist, tropical climates. Add to the fact that it’s the only host is human feces, and, well, you’d have to be pretty unlucky to get a Hookworm stuck in you.
  • Wash your feet before heading back indoors – same idea as taking your shoes off before entering the home, as recommended by the health industry.
  • Last but not least, don’t try more strenuous activities like barefoot running when you are starting out barefoot. Let your feet toughen up a little first, and go slow when you try anything new!

Sources

  1. International Association of House Inspectors, The History of Concrete,
  2. Chevalier G1, Sinatra ST, Oschman JL, Delany RM, Developmental and Cell Biology Department, University of California, Earthing (grounding) the human body reduces blood viscosity-a major factor in cardiovascular disease., Study, Jan 01, 1970
  3. Department of Ambulatory Cardiology, Military Clinical Hospital, Powstancow Warszawy 5, Bydgoszcz, Poland, Earthing the human body influences physiologic processes., Study, Jan 01, 1970
  4. Ghaly M, Teplitz D., The biologic effects of grounding the human body during sleep as measured by cortisol levels and subjective reporting of sleep, pain, and stress., Study, Oct 10, 2004
  5. Society for Barefoot Living, Health Codes & OSHA,
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