As of June 1st, I decided to instate a 30 day challenge around the act of walking, running, and hiking barefoot outdoors as much as possible.
After some in-depth self-study on the subject (which, admittedly peaked my interest after researching Vibram Five-Finger Shoes), I came to learn about the abundance of amazing health benefits that come from spending time with your bare feet against the Earth. As a result of this interest, each and every single day since the start of June I’ve been walking barefoot on terrain such as asphalt, grass (both lawns and natural paths in the woods), gravel, sand, and a whole host of other challenging surfaces.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Who the hell would want to voluntarily walk around barefoot all the time? What are you, a cave man? Put your damn shoes back on, dude!”. Trust me, I was right there with you when I started reading up on this topic! But after you dig a little deeper and read what so many people have to say about this simple activity, you just might become interested in giving it a try for yourself.
The science or “reflexology” behind the art of walking, running, and overall spending as much time as possible being barefoot is hard to deny. For this 30 day challenge I plan on potentially doing a weekly update, or I may hold off until the end and do a review; I haven’t quite decided yet. Let’s explore the benefits of practicing the art of going bare:
1. Reduces Inflammation
Perhaps the single-most valuable benefit on this list (besides comfort related benefits, of course). Inflammation is the #1 cause of disease in the United States.
Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes, muscular dystrophy (MS), digestive issues/irritable bowel syndrome etc. are ALL a result of excessive – and often highly preventable – inflammation in the body.
Ready for some “radical” science? Free radicals associated with cancer are known to carry a positive charge. These particles do play an important role in our overall health and immune system, but can become troublesome when not dissipated correctly.
The Earth itself carries a negative charge: this is why we use the term “ground” or “grounding” in the world of electrical and electronic gadgets and appliances. “Grounding” diffuses the difference in polarity between two objects by plugging one directly into the Earth itself. By making direct contact with the Earth, we can safely and naturally discharge those free radicals!
2. Improves Your Overall Balance
What we don’t realize is just how much traditional shoes separate and alter the natural positioning of our ball and heel. Most shoes place our feet in incredibly unnatural positions which cause vital muscles to weaken and atrophy over the course of years. Because of this, a lot of people are walking around with incredibly underdeveloped feet!
It will indeed be challenging when first going barefoot over things like rocky, uneven asphalt. With time and practice, however, you begin becoming much more sensitive to the vestibular system (balance system) which gets ignored and marginalized with traditional footwear. The more you walk barefoot, the more you strengthen this system; it’s just like any other workout. The human body adapts to new changing conditions, and increases its own endurance in a progressive manner.
Balance isn’t something that’s reserved only for the young and spry; its benefits lasso ALL age ranges. You can begin improving your balance immediately – regardless of your age – if you start spending a little more time with your bare feet on the Earth daily!
3. Improves Your Overall Strength
When you awaken the vestibular system, you start allowing those new muscles (which were ignored due to your old footwear) to begin to truly flourish.
With added balance comes added strength and support from those newly-worked muscles:
If you’re a runner or a hiker, you’ll notice an immediate increase in the power of your stride in each individual leg.
If you’re a swimmer, you’re going to notice a little more “kick” in your stroke.
Even if you don’t particularly care for physical activities, this will increase your ability to stand or walk for extended periods of time.
4. Greater Circulation
Again, by awakening the slumbering vestibular system, you increase the blood flow to these “newfound” areas. You also increase the blood supply in your legs and elsewhere! This means a boost in energy and endurance, and a temporary boost in metabolism as well. Less aches and pains in the joints also result from this increase in circulation!
5. Improves Your Posture
This is a big one! When we finally start feeling the ground beneath our bare feet, they begin to tell us immediately how well we’re shifting our own weight. As mentioned above, traditional footwear has a raised heal that causes us to lean forward much more than we really need to. This in turn causes us to place more stress on the hips than is actually required.
When you start shifting your weight more optimally for your body size and frame, your posture will increase. This will improve your breathing and even make you appear taller since you’ll finally be extending your spine correctly!
6. Decreases Blood Pressure
Another fantastic circulatory benefit. You can directly reduce your blood pressure by stimulating the nerve endings on the bottoms of your feet simply by walking barefoot more. No additional changes to diet required!
7. Tougher, Healthier Feet!
Last but not least is the most obvious benefit: tougher, more resilient feet! All of the benefits on this list combine and compound to create a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. With tougher feet comes the ability to move quicker and with more agility – with or without shoes on. You’ll also start to notice how over-protective other people are of walking around barefoot, even if it’s just in the backyard or garden.
Now you can educate those people on the many benefits of leaving your shoes at home : ).
My Personal Goals with Going Barefoot
Obviously I wouldn’t have taken on this challenge if I weren’t interested in going somewhere with it. My goal with going barefoot is to simply enjoy the benefits above, particularly increased strength and balance. I do a lot of running, lifting, and hiking, and I can see this increase being extremely beneficial. I’m most interested in seeing if my max weight (the heaviest weight I’m able to lift in any particular exercise) increases as a result of this experiment!
For now, enjoy the benefits on this list. Do you have the courage to “go bare”? ; )
~ By: Jason Demakis