New research out of Ithaca’s College School of Health Sciences and Performance suggests that walking around barefoot is very beneficial for our feet. According to researchers, ditching footwear helps improve stability, balance and posture, and it also helps prevent common injuries and strengthen “often overlooked” foot muscles.
Shoes are great for protecting our feet and dispersing our load over a larger area, but shoes also have a downside. Patrick McKeon, a professor at the department of Exercise and Sports Sciences at Ithaca College, said that our feet work by sending signals to the brain, which the brain then interprets before sending back a signal of its own. When shoes are added to the equation, it can affect that information relay.
“When you put a big sole underneath [your feet], you put a big dampening effect on that information,” McKeon said. “There’s a missing link that connects the body with the environment. Some shoes are very good, from the standpoint of providing support. But the consequence of that support, about losing information from the foot, is what we see the effects of [when it comes to overuse injuries].”
Now, obviously there are times when you need to wear shoes, but McKeon said people should ditch their footwear when possible to help strengthen their feet. There are plenty of exercises you can find online to help improve foot strength and balance, but oftentimes simply putting your bare feet through the stress of everyday life can lead to better mobility.
“Anything that has to deal with changing postures and using the forces that derive from the interaction with the body and the ground [is great for developing foot core strength],” McKeon said. “The more people can go barefoot, such as at home or the office, is a really good thing.”
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You can see that information relay McKeon talks about when you look at 1- and 2-year-olds. For anyone who has had kids or who has been around young kids as they are learning to walk, you’ll notice that their feet do a tremendous job of working in real time to help the child maintain balance. Sure, they’ll fall plenty of times as they get the hang of it, but eventually they’ll be walking around like a pro.
But parents will also notice what happens when they add shoes to that young equation. A child’s brain has just gotten used to the information relay from foot to brain, but adding a shoe muddles the equation. Instead of lifting their foot six inches to get up that step in the kitchen, the child has to lift it just a bit higher to clear the step, and oftentimes that lesson has to be learned the hard way – with a bruise.
Obviously as we get older we become more comfortable in shoes and inherently know how we need to adjust our gait and steps depending on our choice of footwear, but don’t be afraid to go au naturale. Shoes can make your feet get lazy, or in the case of heels, overstress other areas. Go barefoot and you can naturally and safely improve your foot strength, mobility and balance.