Does anyone else remember when barefoot-style running shoes were all the rage? I still can’t get the image of the individual toe segments out of my mind, and it’s been at least 15 years since I’ve last seen someone wear them. Trust me, they weren’t an aesthetic choice, but rather one consciously made for potential health benefits reports Women’s Health Magazine.
Going barefoot can improve your balance and posture, argue proponents like Patrick Mckeon, Ph.D. an associate professor at Ithaca College School of Health Sciences and Human Performance. It works the muscles in your foot that control these functions; the muscles that are usually cushioned and supported by your shoes and typically don’t get a lot of love.
There’s also a more spiritual element at play with going barefoot. Walking without shoes through nature can help you feel more connected with the Earth, some people argue, which can benefit physical and emotional health.
However, there’s not a ton of robust, clinical research investigating the potential impacts and benefits of ditching your shoes and going barefoot. But here are some of the potential side effects of walking barefoot without shoes, according to science. And for more walking-related intelligence.
“In theory, walking barefoot more closely restores our ‘natural’ walking pattern, also known as our gait,” orthopedic surgeon Jonathan Kaplan, MD told the Tennessee Chiropractic Association. This theoretically might help people have better control of their foot position and improve balance, among other potential benefits.
Now, you’d have to go barefoot quite a lot to experience this effect, but according to studies of habitually barefoot Indian populations—including this one published in the journal Footwear Science —moving through life without shoes on was associated with a wider foot shape overall, and having feet that work in a far more biomechanically efficient way.
“Barefoot walkers had wider feet and more equally distributed peak pressures, i.e. the entire load-carrying surface was contributing more uniformly than in habitually shod subjects, where regions of very high or very low peak pressures were more apparent,” writes the study.
Ultimately, though the study found that wearing shoes was crucial for activities such as exercise, “current data suggests that footwear that fails to respect natural foot shape and function” will ultimately transform the shape and behavior of your feet.
The act of walking barefoot is a key part of grounding —aka physically connecting your body with the Earth. By being barefoot, the theory goes, you’re able to pick up (and benefit from) electrons from the ground. These alleged benefits include improved sleep, reduced pain and inflammation, and more. However, much more robust research needs to be done to confirm these lofty claims.