As a child, I went barefoot because it felt great. I didn’t know of any actual health benefits until I was much older. In fact I’ve learned that living barefoot not only feels really good and much more comfortable than wearing shoes, it prevents a myriad of problems most people have with their feet sooner or later.
The major health benefits of going barefoot are the prevention of the problems caused by shoes
The article, “90% of foot ailments are caused by or made worse by shoes,” contains details of all the foot ailment caused by wearing shoes. The most obvious problems caused by shoes, and prevented by going barefoot, are fungal infections – such as athlete’s foot and toenail fungus – as well as neuromas, corns, hammertoes, bunions, and blisters.
Plantar warts will also be prevented by never letting the virus grow on a foot that’s trapped inside a moist and warm shoe. Exposure to the open air seems to play a major role in causing the virus not to survive.
Feet in their natural state (bare) do not smell any differently than hands. Shoes that are used every day are the cause of feet that have an odor. Those shoes never get washed, and the accumulation of sweat, mixed with bacteria, fungal growth, dead skin cells, and other filth that is in shoes will always contaminate the skin of the feet inside them, causing an unpleasant odor. The only way that can be completely prevented is to never wear shoes.
Keeping feet in their natural state can benefit the entire body
Our feet were designed to walk barefoot.
The human foot has 26 bones (making up a quarter of the bones in the body), 33 joints, and more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments. These work together to keep the body upright and moving. Spending time barefoot will strengthen this entire system, which can improve balance and help prevent injury, both to the feet and ankles as well as other muscle and joint systems.
Walking barefoot restores a more natural gait. The late Dr. William Rossi explained it quite well in his Podiatry Management article, “Why Shoes Make ‘Normal’ Gait Impossible.”
The soft padding, built up heels, and structure of shoes can, over time, prevent the use of certain muscle groups that can strengthen the body. Walking without shoes improves balance, proprioception, helps with pain relief, and leads to improved mechanics of hips, knees, and core.
Shoes hinder the flexibility and mobility of all those moving parts. When you go barefoot, you have better foot mechanics, which can lead to improved mechanics of the hips, knees, and core, with stronger leg muscles, which support the lower back region.
Barefooting is better for posture, blood circulation, and increases sensory perception, balance and awareness, making you much more sensitive to and aware of your environment. This awareness and strength make it much less likely that you will have an accident, and if you do, that injury will be much less than if wearing shoes. Walking barefoot also promotes a general feeling of calmness, health, and well being.
Children who learn to walk without shoes have a much greater developmental advantage
As for children, the benefits are numerous for those who grow up barefoot. Their feet and lower bodies will grow normally, resulting in a wider and more natural toe spread, higher and stronger arches, which in turn promotes more effective and natural movement.
They have better developed motor skills, better balance, increased strength, heightened sensory perception, better concentration, good immune systems, are happier and healthier, and can manage risks better.
This is especially important outside, where different surfaces, textures, and temperatures act like a giant sensory playland. Not only is this fun, but strengthening the nerves can improve proprioception – awareness of the body in space. Enhanced proprioception benefits a host of athletic abilities including kicking, jumping, and balancing.
People with disabilities or a chronic disease find barefooting helps them live more productive lives
Tim Mills, a lifetime barefooter and member of the Society for Barefoot Living wrote:
Being barefoot helps me with my balance and mobility. Living with cerebral palsy, means your tactile and vestibular (balance) senses do not function the same as they do for most people. When I am barefoot, I can feel what is under my feet more directly, and react faster to changing surfaces. Think of it as the difference between trying to thread a needle with your bare hands vs. trying to thread the same needle while wearing thick winter gloves. The gloves limit your ability to feel and manipulate the fine thread, making the task much harder. For me, the difference between walking barefoot and walking in shoes is almost the same.
Kris Simmons, also a member of the SBL, states:
For me, one of the health benefits of barefooting is that it wards off diabetic neuropathy. I have type 2, and I am ‘supposed’ to avoid going barefoot, because the diabetes could cause me to lose feeling in my feet, and I could cut myself and not know it and get an infection and end up having my foot amputated!!!. … As tough as my feet are, I can feel a sesame seed under my foot. Neuropathy is caused by poor circulation. What is one of the best ways to improve circulation? MASSAGE. What are you doing to the bottom of your feet as you walk over various surfaces? Massaging them!
Kris is among many barefooters who have diabetes and who have found that conventional medical advice to avoid being barefoot simply does apply to many long-time barefooters. They have found that the stimulation from constant direct contact of their feet with surfaces actually tends to prevent neuropathy from occurring.
As people advance in age, bare feet are more important than ever for sensory feedback to the brain
In the book, The Brain That Changes Itself, the author, Norman Doidge, M.D., psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and researcher, interviewed Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, who has researched, written, and lectured widely about the brain’s capacity for change in response to the signals it gets from the outside world.
On page 68 of the book, Doidge writes:
According to Merzenich, shoes, worn for decades, limit the sensory feedback from our feet to our brain. If we went barefoot, our brains would receive many different kinds of input as we went over uneven surfaces. Shoes are a relatively flat platform that spreads out the stimuli, and the surfaces we walk on are increasingly artificial and perfectly flat. This leads us to dedifferentiate the maps for the soles of our feet and limit how touch guides our foot control. Then we may start to use canes, walkers, or crutches or rely on other senses to steady ourselves. By resorting to these compensations instead of exercising our failing brain systems, we hasten their decline.
Merzenich was specifically referring to a decline in the sense of balance in people as they get older. The reason for this – shoes worn over a lifetime limiting sensory feedback, especially during advancing age – could reasonably be extrapolated as also affecting many other brain functions in older people, such as the onset of dementia.
How you feel when you’re barefoot relates to its health benefits, but there is something more subtle and personal
Being barefoot feels good because it allows better sensory perception, making you much more aware of the environment around you. Walking with shoes covering your feet is like wearing blinders on the eyes, or earmuffs covering the ears. Shoes or any footwear numb a vital part of your sense organs, the ability to feel.
Bare feet allow you to feel the ground or whatever surface you’re on. Walking barefoot, especially on dirt, sand, grass, or other natural surfaces is relaxing and lowers stress. It’s like being able to give yourself a good deep tissue massage. Each surface is a different experience.
Cool or warm, wet or dry, smooth or rough, the changes stimulate the brain and nerves in ways that help you relax. It helps so much with body awareness – which in turn contributes to it being safer than when wearing footwear.
But regardless of the surface, going barefoot makes you feel good because it feels good. I personally enjoy feeling the different surfaces under my bare feet – the floor, carpet, the sidewalk, the ground, and anything else.
One reason barefooting makes you feel good is because the nervous system is fully functioning unfettered. That alone should convince anyone that your feet need to be free to feel the surfaces below them.
Feet have over 200,000 nerve endings (more than any other per square inch in the human body). These nerve endings exist for a variety of reasons, including to send messages to the brain to help maintain balance and safety while walking. Like any other part of the nervous system, these nerve endings benefit from stimulation.
Similar to bare hands, we can clearly feel what we are touching when the feet are bare. The many tactile sensations are not only pleasant – rough or smooth, hard or soft, cold or warm, fine or coarse – this ability allows people to walk safely on uneven surfaces, to climb, to feel anything dangerous before it hurts them.
Walking barefoot can engender a feeling of emotional calmness and stability
Barefoot walking outdoors fosters an awareness of surroundings which cannot be achieved when walking with shoes. Feeling ones feet on the ground can create a sense of stability and safety, sometimes referred to as “grounding.”
Unfortunately, “grounding” has taken on a different meaning in recent years due to the internet proliferation of the “earthing/grounding” pseudoscience and the medical quackery associated with it. I’m in no way referring to that, which involves the phony claims of electrons emanating from the earth and curing a myriad of diseases and afflictions.
The promoters of these claims, by exploiting the word “grounding,” have basically ruined it for the rest of us, because now the mere mention of the word immediately brings thoughts of those phony claims, not the emotionally calming effect of letting your feet be completely bare.
Walking barefoot is the natural condition of human beings. We know that, but sometimes it can’t be fully explained. It’s often a very personal thing.
Walking barefoot feels wonderful. The nerves in the feet are incredibly responsive and transmit detailed information to the brain about everything from pressure to temperature. This is then translated into appropriate movement, allowing you to make instant decisions and respond to external stimuli as you walk.