Since we’ve been spending more time at home over the past two years, it’s likely that you’ve also been spending more time walking around barefoot.
This is actually a very good thing for our feet!
With more time spent in their natural shape and less time crammed into work shoes that can lead to foot problems and discomfort, our feet finally have the opportunity to regain their shape and strength.
In addition to walking around our homes barefoot, there may be some health benefits to walking barefoot outdoors on certain surfaces.
Why Do We Wear Shoes, Anyway?
Shoes are meant to protect our feet from sharp objects, bacteria and infections, and adverse weather. In the beginning, people wore shoes for practical purposes, however, as they developed into fashionable accessories, they became less practical. Design was driven by appearance over comfort and purpose and has, unfortunately, led to many of the foot problems we see today.
Of course, nowadays it’s not always acceptable to walk around without shoes. Stores and restaurants won’t allow people inside without them, however, the outdoors doesn’t care whether we wear shoes or not, so if you want to take your foot health to the next level, you might want to try incorporating some barefoot time outside!
Benefits of Walking Barefoot Outdoors
If the main reason we wear shoes is to protect our feet, why would walking outdoors barefoot be a good idea?
Walking barefoot allows our feet to receive tactile feedback from the ground, which can help prevent injuries like ankle sprains. Further, with our toes splayed to their natural state, the feet have more surface area, which improves balance, a benefit for hiking on uneven terrain.
In addition to structural benefits, studies have shown some interesting health and healing benefits that may come as a result from walking outdoors on natural surfaces like dirt, sand, and grass, known as “earthing” or “grounding.”
It’s said that the surface electrons in the Earth transfer energy from the ground to the body. Emerging scientific research has shown support of earthing to have various physiological benefits to the body.
For many of the same reasons that wide toe box shoes are pivotal to foot health, barefoot walking should be part of your foot healthcare routine.
With your foot directly connected to the ground, your toes can splay naturally and cover maximal surface area. As you might imagine, a flat, wide surface area provides a more stable base for balance.
Try balancing on one foot wearing shoes vs barefoot. You may notice quite a difference in your stability!
We’ve learned that we can purchase shoes that can “correct” our foot “problems,” however that’s not exactly what is happening.
Shoes designed to work with supination or pronation don’t actually correct the problem, they reinforce it. The design of traditional shoes can lead to foot problems like bunions, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, and more.
This is because the corrective nature of most shoes causes our foot muscles to weaken, unable to perform to their capacity. Walking barefoot will help rebuild those foot muscles, enabling them to enhance performance for activities like running and hiking.
Constricting the toes into a narrow shoe where they're touching the fabric creates friction points and also limits the range of motion, eventually leading to pain and unnatural movement.
Each step you take in this unnatural position, you create a repetitive pattern that can lead to injuries over time.
As the foot muscles rebuild, your posture will also improve.
The feet support the weight of the entire body and absorb the shock with every step. If we settle into the habit of sitting and moving with poor posture, it can put unnecessary pressure on muscles and joints, causing problems like poor circulation, chronic pain, and tight muscles.
With every step, your feet absorb 5 times your body weight. If you’re not landing properly, then you can hinder your foot’s natural movement and discourage full range of motion, not just of the feet, but also in the hips, knees, ankles, and pelvis.
In an earthing study, 60 subjects were blindly connected to Earth ground or non-earth surface, in order to demonstrate the effect on sleep. The participants connected to the Earth showed significant improvement in sleep, including reduction of pain, PMS symptoms, and sleep apnea.
Research suggests that direct physical contact with the Earth can help regulate our nervous system and circadian rhythms. When these are out of sync, it can affect digestion, body temperature, and blood pressure.
Grounding was shown to reduce inflammation and improve blood flow with rapid improvement in a small study of adults.
Places to Incorporate More Barefoot Time
You probably shouldn’t try to walk into a restaurant or store barefoot, so where is a safe space to do so? Here are a few ideas:
- The beach
- Strides at the track
- A grassy field at a school or playground
- A dirt path
- Your backyard
Precautions of Walking Barefoot
While barefoot outdoors seems to demonstrate plenty of health benefits, there are some precautions to take if you do decide that this is something that you want to give a try.
- Watch out for sharp objects that can puncture your feet, like glass and rocks
- Walking barefoot outdoors can expose the feet to harmful bacteria and infections
- Diabetics are at higher risk of foot injury due to neuropathy, which causes a lack of sensation in the bottom of the foot.
Getting Started Walking Barefoot Outdoors
Just as your feet need to adjust when you transition from traditional shoes to minimalist shoes, you’ll need to do the same when you start to walk barefoot. In fact, the transition is quite similar.
Start out Slowly
Your feet are used to moving and functioning in a certain way, especially if you wear shoes all day long. Start out with short 10 to 15-minute increments of standing barefoot indoors. From there, progress to soft surfaces outside, like grass or dirt.
Start out With a Minimalist or Zero Drop Shoe
Since the transition from conventional shoes to minimalist shoes is so similar, you can start out with any pair of Lems to ease your feet into their more natural state. As the muscles build up, you’ll feel less discomfort over time.
Again, stick to short 10 to 15-minute increments to start, building duration slowly over the course of a few weeks.
Practice Balance Exercises
Improve your balance by working on improving it! You can start off with something as simple as standing on one foot and progress to more challenging poses, like single-leg deadlifts. We put together a list of great exercises to improve your balance.
Try a Barefoot Sport
Start out by trying a few sports that already require you to be barefoot, like yoga, martial arts, or pilates. This will get you used to the feeling of doing activities barefoot.
The benefits of walking barefoot are all the same reasons that Lems designs the shoes that we do. Our goal is to mimic barefoot movement as much as possible, while still offering comfort and protection for the feet.
If you want to take off your Lems from time to time to walk barefoot, we’re quite all right with that!