Take a moment to examine the way you walk. Don't be embarrassed, just take a casual stroll and feel the way your feet interact with the ground. Now, if you are wearing shoes, take them off and if you are barefoot, grab a pair of shoes and put them on. Stand up and walk again, and pay attention to the way you walk. Do you feel a difference? I made a fool of myself walking aimlessly around my office building the other day, but I'm not embarrassed because shoes really do change the way your feet interact with the ground, and not necessarily in a good way.
I first recognized the difference between going barefoot and wearing shoes while traveling in Thailand this past summer. Up until the end of the trip, I wore my Chaco sandals. They were my go-to shoes and I couldn't imagine a day without them. Until they broke. My sole fell off in the middle of the jungle and I ended up trudging through Thailand, airports, gross bathrooms and eventually California all barefoot. Before you scream in disgust and disregard the rest of this article, just know I do love and wear shoes. I have over 50 pairs of shoes, which is a slight obsession, so I am not anti-shoe, but my week of running around barefoot was glorious and, as it turns out, extremely good for my body.
The barefoot movement is not just for outdoor enthusiasts. Science shows why all of us should strive to embrace certain aspects of going barefoot.
Bare feet = healthy feet
In 2007, a study was done in South Africa comparing the feet of ancient skeletons to the feet of Zulu and European people. They found two very interesting things. First they found that the skeletons had the healthiest feet of all four populations, which led them to conclude people had healthier feet before the invention of shoes.
Second, they found that the Zulu people have the healthiest feet, and Europeans have the least healthiest. The Zulu population often goes barefoot, while Europeans represent those of us who wear shoes on a daily basis.
Is it really true?
A lifetime of wearing shoes actually changes our natural gait and the natural tendencies of our feet while walking. When I made you examine the way you walk earlier, did you notice that your walk feels a whole lot different when you have shoes on?
A barefoot stride starts from the heel and ends in the toe. The feet naturally form to the ground and propel you forward. Feet cannot perform these same functions while swaddled in shoes. When we wear shoes, we step forward with extreme force on our heels and then our feet stay flat as the rubber sole of our shoes roll forward and use our leg muscles to plod around step after step. It's unnatural to how feet are supposed to move.
How do shoes damage the body?
Most people are so used to walking in shoes that they have changed their gait so their heels takes the majority of the impact of each step. We step heel first when we wear shoes and therefore, new shoes are released with extra padding in the heel to absorb that shock and pressure. But all that padding only makes us step with more force because our feet can't sense the ground well enough, which causes more damage to our feet and joints.
Shoes nowadays often turn up slightly at the toe because the thick sole of our shoes does not allow our feet to embrace the natural forward propulsion that going barefoot does. Our toes naturally curl in and carry their weight by allowing us to walk, but shoes continue to insist on not letting our feet do their job.
We only think we need to wear shoes because we have done so for the majority of our lives. We have trained ourselves to rely something we really don't actually need. The only real reason to wear shoes is to protect our feet from the chewed gum littering the sidewalk and sharp objects on the streets.
There will always be a reason to wear shoes, but my personal preference is barefoot. However, if you insist on wearing them, then choose a pair that will benefit your feet. Wear shoes without thick soles and don't take walking for granted. Train yourself to walk naturally so you don't kill your feet by slamming them onto the pavement over and over again. Step lightly, and let your step roll through your heel and out of your toes. There is no need to change your whole lifestyle, but appreciate the magnificence of your feet by taking care of them and learn to walk correctly.