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The health benefits of barefoot walking and running

Updated on October 7, 2011

Going Commando with Naked Feet

Barefoot walking has been receiving a lot of press of late due to its excellent benefits for the health. Of course it all started many millennia ago and was an instant success, which had everyone doing it. Somewhere along the line, around 6000 years ago everyone was hell bent on wearing shoes to take away the disadvantages of barefoot movement.

Scientists, professors and foot specialists are now all singing the praises of going barefoot. Every fitness shoe manufacturer worth their salt is producing a range of shoes to simulate going barefoot. The majority of toning shoes offer a barefoot walk in soft sand approach to exercise, and reproduce the benefits.

The journal Nature has recently published a study on barefoot walking and how this really benefits not only the feet, but the joints, the legs and the lower back.

In shoe design labs the world over, treadmills have been taken over by barefoot runners as their scientists try to determine how better to serve the feet. It would appear that evolution has developed the foot into a perfect shock absorber, and getting a more natural movement back into walking healthy, invigorating and brings more muscles into play, strengthening the feet and legs.

Benefitting from barefoot walking

The rise in joint problems, bunions, hammertoe conditions, and painful feetcan all be attributed to wearing inappropriate footwear in many cases, and if we were all going barefoot many health problems related to the feet would see their prevalence dramatically fall. Athlete’s foot and fungal infections would not have the moist environment to proliferate and the feet would be a lot better off.

The change in gait which results from running barefoot sees the foot land flatter, which lessens the stress on the heel and prevents jarring of the foot, ankle, knees, hips and lower back. Barefoot is as nature intended, and lets face facts, evolution is rather good at getting the body to perfection and it had walking licked pretty early on. The foot arches are the perfect shock absorber for the body, however they need to be used correctly and it is something that we have all forgotten whilst we have been in full shod comfort.

To get a better understanding of the benefits of barefoot walking, be sure to have a look at the video below when you have 5 minutes spare. Its gives a great explanation of how the body is much better off barefoot.

The Bare Facts of Barefoot walking and running

The problems and health dangers of barefoot walking

It would not be ethical of me not to warn you all of the dangers of barefoot walking, which the video fails to cover. The aim of this hub is to give a balanced point of view, so here are the dangers of leaving the shoes at home.

  • Glass
  • Stones
  • Excrement
  • People wearing shoes
  • Gravel
  • Hot tarmac
  • Wet weather grip

I don’t need to dwell, as they are pretty self explanatory. But how can one benefit from the natural way of walking whilst gaining some protection from the problems above?

Vibram Five Fingers

Vibram Five Fingers
Vibram Five Fingers

Vibram Five Fingers

The answer has been found by Vibram who have made Pirelli tyres for the feet which feature a separate lobe for each toe. They would have been laughed out of Dragons Den, however Pirelli invested quite a large sum in Vibram and their latest line of footwear is just that.

Vibram rubber has been developed into one of the highest quality materials available for grip and durability. It is almost universally used on the outsoles of the major outdoor performance footwear brands. But when it came to producing their own line of shoes, Vibram quite literally threw away the mould.

Naturally they started from the ground up. They had the grip sorted already so all they needed was a suitable upper. They ended up with something rather more foot-like than standard shoes with an upper which is little more than a convenient way of keeping their rubber firmly fixed to your feet. The shoes are called Vibram Five Fingers, and you are unlikely to find a more comfortable shoe on the market.

Vibram Five Fingers

Vibram Five Fingers
Vibram Five Fingers

Vibram Five Fingers - Gloves for the feet

They were TIME magazines best invention of 2007 for preserving the full benefits of natural barefoot walking and running whilst offering extra protection and grip. They are terrific for water sports and give extra traction, as the toes can be utilised more. They help to improve balance and give an added degree of cushioning and will instantly give you grippy feet. There are few better shoes for Crossfit training on the market.

Won’t all that rubber take away the natural feeling of walking?

It does a little, but in a good way. There are a great many benefits to a little walking protection. You can walk for longer, you have better traction when walking in the wet, and you are less likely to get a walking injury. Besides you don’t have to wear them all the time and can still go commando and walk as nature intended when the mood takes you.

If you want to have a bit more cushioning, or don’t think they will go with your new outfit then there are Skechers Shape ups, Reebok Easytone Shoes and Fitflops sandals which all offer a little more padding and support and are far less likely to freak people out. However if you want the full benefits of barefoot walking, with a little extra grip and protection, then it has to be Vibram Five Fingers.


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    • Chuck Bluestein profile image

      Chuck Bluestein 3 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

      Dr. Oz says that the South lost the Civil war because they walked barefoot and got parasites. I looked it up and there used to be a lot more ringworm (parasite) in the Southeastern U.S. But in Africa they want donations of shoes so the people there will not get ringworm.

      Also going barefoot helps people according to the newer science of grounding or earthing. Common benefits include less stress, better sleep, thinner blood and lot more. Plus they are now making shoes with some carbon or copper in the sole of shoe so they can get a grounding effect. The most common thing that people see when not grounded is when they get an electric shock touching something from the static electricity jumping since it cannot wait to get out of you.

    • profile image

      Bill Colvin 5 years ago

      I am a barefooter of 21 months. Regarding the 'dangers' of going barefoot that the article mentions:

      The danger from glass is exaggerated. I almost never make any attempt to avoid broken glass, and occasionally go out of my way to step on it. It has never even caused pain; I usually can't tell it apart from gravel.

      Stones can hurt. It depends on the size and shape. 2-4 inch sharp ones hurt the most. But feet are very tough, and the injury threshold is far, far above the pain threshold. At any rate, just pay attention and tread softly.

      Excrement is gross, but uncommon and fairly obvious. You should be able to avoid it. Feet are self-cleaning with a bit of water. There is no danger unless you have an open wound in your foot or put on shoes while it's on your feet, both of which could lead to an infection.

      People wearing shoes do not normally step on each others' feet, nor do they usually step on yours. And again, feet are very tough.

      Gravel is not dangerous. Once you've developed some leather on your soles, it actually feels good.

      Hot tarmac has to be very, very hot in order to pose a risk. The heat can be avoided and you can acclimate to it.

      Wet weather grip. Don't make me laugh. Bare feet have amazing grip on all surfaces. For shoes to outdo feet in grip, they pretty much have to have spikes.

    • andrewwilliams63 profile image

      andrewwilliams63 5 years ago

      Great hub, thanks for sharing. Vibram Five Fingers are great!

    • michifus profile image

      michifus 6 years ago

      For some people they can be of great help,however it will depend on the nature of your foot pain. I'd recommend seeing a doctor to determine the underlying problem. If its plantar fasciitis, walking barefoot should be avoided, unless in soft sand.

      Vibram Five Fingers have no cushioning, so its best to try them out on soft ground first to get used to walking in them and condition your feet. They are comfortable though, you may even forget you have them on!

    • sportandhealth profile image

      sportandhealth 6 years ago

      good hub, at the moment i seem to get bad pains in my feet when i walk, so im going to look at those shoes you have put up.

    • fundamentallife profile image

      fundamentallife 7 years ago

      Awesome tips and extremely useful, barefoot walking is great exercise for your feet.


    • profile image

      June 7 years ago

      A friend has a pair of the Vibram Five Fingers and he loves them!

    • theherbivorehippi profile image

      theherbivorehippi 7 years ago from Holly, MI I know about the wonderful benefits of barefoot but I have never heard of these five finger foot shoes things! These look FABULOUS!!! I so need a pair of these..even if its just for walking around my huge yard and doing yard work. I am bookmarking this hub! This might be an early birthday present for myself. lol Great hub! Rated up!