Green Eyes On: Can Walking Barefoot Make You Healthier?


Photo: Tulane Pubic Relations via Flickr.

New research is showing that ditching your shoes could possibly make your bones and body healthier. According to a recent article in the UK's Guardian (also covered recently in TreeHugger, "Barefoot Running Is the New Treat for Your Feet"), researchers analyzed the movements of runners on a treadmill and found that running in shoes increased joint stress more so than running barefoot. And even more than walking in high heels! The article goes on to say that "running shoes aim to offer protection against injury by cushioning the foot... and stop it rolling too much while it's in contact with the ground. However, there's not much research on whether these features really work. Injury rates in distance runners have stayed about the same over time, despite changes in the design of running shoes."

Hmmm, gives you reason to rethink those expensive running shoes, doesn't it?

And in an article published just last week in Nature, according to research by Harvard University's Daniel Lieberman, barefoot running was found to reduce the impact on feet. In the article Lieberman states that most runners land on their heel when they strike, which generates a sharp spike of force, "so it's like someone hitting you on the heel with a hammer, about one-and-a-half to three times your body weight," he says. However, after testing barefoot runners in US and Kenya, he was surprised by the lower force readings. He was able to confirm that this is because barefoot runners land on the ball or middle of the root, rather than the heel, which means less impact and a softer landing.

But, could you actually run barefoot? In 1960 Abebe Bikila won an Olympic marathon while running barefoot. Galahad Clark, founder of Terra Plana footwear, is also (perhaps surprisingly) a fan of barefoot running, as TH writer Bonnie also points out. But that's extreme. So forget about running barefoot. What about just walking barefoot?

Though one of the most fundamental activities to humans, some say that most of us are actually walking incorrectly. Clark says we have shoes to blame. Joined by a growing body of international research from coaches, podiatrists and other experts, Clark (a seventh generation member of the Clark shoemaker family) says that we would have fewer injuries if we were barefoot. Not only that, we would enjoy increased sensory perception, improved posture and strengthened muscles, core, and feet.

Ready to walk yourself to health this year?

Fitness expert Joanna Hall recommends these tips for walking yourself (shod or unshod) fit in 2010.

Feet and ankles
• Absorb the ground by rolling through the whole foot
• Feel the toes spread, and push off through them
• Open your ankle and show the entire sole of your foot to the person behind you

Pelvis and hips
• Keep abdominals lightly engaged, but lower back and gluteals relaxed
• Keep hips level on each stride

Arms and hands
• Swing your bent elbows backwards further than you swing them forwards
• Keep hands relaxed

Head and neck
• Increase the distance between your ears and shoulders

Go Barefoot, Without Going Barefoot

And if you're curious, but still wary, of walking barefoot across city sidewalks, down bus aisles, and through litter strewn streets, not to worry: Clark designed the VivoBarefoot shoe line to closely replicate the sensation of walking barefoot.

terra plana vivobarefoot shoe in white photo
VivoBarefoot feature a 3 millimeter sole, completely puncture resistant, that allows the wearer to connect and feel the ground beneath the feet. By doing so you gradually massage the entirety of your foot sole, stimulating every nerve ending in your body from your throat to your kidneys. The sole reportedly naturally flexes and strengthens the muscles in your feet, while realigning your natural posture.

I can't say that I've actually tried the VivoBarefoot shoes, but there is a nice collection of them for men and women, ranging from slip-ons to lace-ups to boots. And, as bonus, they're made out of recycled materials with minimal glue construction.

More on Walking and Terra Plana Shoes
Walk Score: Cool Green Google Map Mashup
Walking The Walk : 8 Healthy Reasons To Let Your Footsteps Generate Energy
Go Green and Fight Child Obesity with a Walking School Bus
Terra Plana's Galahad Clark on Recycling Shoes

Green Eyes On: Can Walking Barefoot Make You Healthier?
New research is showing that ditching your shoes could possibly make your bones and body healthier. According to a recent article in the UK's Guardian (also covered recently in TreeHugger, "Barefoot Running Is

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