"Set your feet free and your mind will follow." So goes the logo on the Society for Barefoot Living homepage. Why, you may be wondering, is there a society devoted just to people who love to live barefoot? If you ask the barefooters of the world, chances are the first thing they'll say is that it just feels great.
"We enjoy walking barefoot as nature intended, taking delight in feeling the many textures the world has to offer -- " says the Society.Not convinced that you're ready to throw your shoes away just yet? Well, going barefoot doesn't just feel good--it's really proven to be good for you! Here are some reasons why:
Say Goodbye to Troubled Feet
The introduction of the now out-of-print book "Take Off Your Shoes and Walk" by Simon J. Wikler D.S.C., states that, " -- Practically all shoes worn daily by men and women in our Western civilization have little relation to the shape of the human foot -- Most adults' foot trouble would either not exist or would be much less bothersome if properly-shaped shoes had been worn during childhood or, better yet, if those people had gone barefoot -- "
The book details a bit about the history of foot trouble, only to reveal that:
- There is no record of foot troubles in Biblical times comparable to modern foot ills.
- The seeds of foot trouble were first sown in the Renaissance.
- The introduction of the elevated heel and the pointed toe marked the beginning of modern foot disabilities.
- Less deformed toes
- Greater flexor strength
- More ability to spread the toes
- Denser muscles on the bottom of the feet
- Greater agility than those who had never gone barefoot
- A wider range of hip circumduction and more flexibility of the gluteal and hamstring muscles, which gave them more ability to touch their toes when their knees were held stiff
"Shoes often protect the feet so much that certain foot muscles get lazy because they're not being used," said James DeMarco, running coach and sports store owner.
That's why more people than you'd think have taken to running in bare feet. Marathon runners from Kenya do it all the time, but in the United States you're most likely to see a barefoot runner on the beach. Still, there are those who venture to other areas like grassy fields and even hiking trails.
If you're thinking that running barefoot sounds strange, consider the findings of Michael Warburton, a physical therapist in Australia. In a 2001 research paper he wrote that running barefoot decreases the likelihood of ankle sprains and chronic injuries, such as plantar fasciitis. And, wearing shoes actually increases the risk of sprains because they make runners unaware of the foot's position.
It's not as far-fetched as it may sound -- Nike has just released the Nike Free, a "shoe that lets your foot run free on any surface." It's designed to mimic the effects of running barefoot. According to Nike, "Studies show that barefoot training leads to stronger feet, that stronger feet lead to a stronger body, and that natural movement enhances agility."
Fight Varicose Veins
Going barefoot can actually help prevent vein problems. Why? The motion you get from your unrestricted foot helps the leg muscles pump blood back to the heart. The motion may not be as effective if your foot is confined in a shoe.
It's Just More RelaxingGoing barefoot really puts you in a different sort of mindset, and is usually only reserved for those special, relaxing moments.
Think about when you tend to go barefoot -- at the beach, at home on the carpet, walking on cool grass in the summer, -- and you'll get an idea of what we mean. Exercises geared toward strengthening the body and relaxing the mind (yoga, tai chi, martial arts) are also typically practiced barefoot.
"Maybe the whole world secretly understands that free feet produce a different, more philosophical, relaxed, and unbusinesslike mindset. Without shoes, our ambitions would fade away, wolfish trade practices seem too much trouble, international frictions look foolish. Armies would curl up to take a nap. Nobody would get any serious work done," wrote Barbara Holland inEndangered Pleasures. Or maybe we should all take our shoes off next time we're at work, and see just how stress-free we become?