EDIT: This article has been massively updated for January 2019. I’ve learned a lot about walking barefoot, and I’d love to share it with you!
So, I’ve started walking every day (at least in the summer) without any shoes on. It was a little experiment at first, but now it’s like a little hobby of mine, and I’ve learned a LOT about it.
Why walk barefoot?
Well, this actually started as a complete accidental experiment. I just went without shoes one day, and realised how good it felt. This started a little curious spark inside my head, and I began to research.
The feeling I got when I walked around all day barefoot one summer was bliss! It felt like it reduced tension and I just felt better. I didn’t know at the time that it was ACTUALLY reducing inflammation and stress, physically in the body but we’ll get to that.
I just liked the feeling of my feet on the ground. Whatever the surface.. Grass, Tarmac, Soil or sand. It felt lovely! But turns out, there was more to it than just ‘feeling nice’.
It feels really nice, but there are actually a lot of surprising health benefits to walking barefoot. These benefits come from the position of your feet when they’re not guided by shoes, and the connection between your feet and the earth. Here are some of the main benefits of walking barefoot..
Benefits of walking barefoot
1: Being free and enjoying the experience of walking
When you walk with shoes, you’re not really experiencing the surface you’re walking on. It’s pretty obvious, but you’re not connecting with the ground, and you’re less aware of the amazing textures of the ground.
I know some of you will be thinking this is some sort of hippie ‘new age’ nonsense, but think about it in this way, if life is a one time thing, this is all we’ve got, wouldn’t you want to enjoy it to the best of your ability? To experience all there is to experience?
Exactly. And I’m telling you, the feeling of your bare feet walking through warm sand or soft grass is amazing. It feels so sensual and relaxing, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start walking barefoot years ago. There are of course some dangers to walking barefoot, and these will be discussed a bit later on.
2: Grounding yourself to remove ‘free radicals’
So this is probably the most attractive benefit to walking barefoot. Grounding. Consider that in your body, there are a certain number of ‘free radicals’ which are the leftover particles associated with inflammation.
These particles create lots of stress and discord within your body when there are too many of them, and if untreated usually leads to chronic problems and ailments. These free radicals have a positive charge.
The earth meanwhile, has a NEGATIVE charge. (the free radicals have a positive charge). This means when you come into contact with the earth, with your bare feet, you’re discharging yourself, and this means you’re allowing all the excess energy to go into the ground.
Doing this for about 30-60 minutes a day will allow you a vast improvement in your energy and overall well being. You’ll feel less lethargic and more able to go and do things. You’ll have a much lower level of inflammation and you’ll even sleep better.
But actually, it’s so much more important than that. You see, free radicals are actually super dangerous particles, for a number of reasons. They’re created by our bodies as a by product of metabolism, so we can’t avoid them.
If they’re left untouched in the body or there’s too many of them, they bind to random cells in the body and cause deformation, mutation and damage. This can lead to SERIOUS problems like:
- Parkinsons diesease
- And DOZENs of other serious things like that
Of course, there are other ways of removing free radicals like going vegan and eating healthy. I actually spent several hours researching and refining an article on how to go vegan for you guys, and I tried to make it fun to read!
But walking barefoot is actually a VERY easy way of removing these free radicals just by walking around in a slightly different way. It’s an easy habit to adopt and you can work it into things you already do like walking the dog or going to the beach.
3: Your posture will improve
I’ve read in a number of places that walking barefoot improves your posture and your natural gait. At first I didn’t believe it and Iw as always a sloucher, but after a few months of walking barefoot I noticed that yes, my posture had improved.
Your gait is the natural distance or movement of your stride when you walk or run. It affects your susceptibility to injury, and also your other joints connected to your feet, such as your knees and hips. Having a natural gait allows you to walk naturally and with a lower rate of injury, in general.
By walking barefoot, you experience a more natural gait, because you aren’t able to take large bounding strides, as you’d hurt your feet.
This means you are forced to take a smaller stride, and think more carefully about your foot placement. Because your feet are exposed to the elements and the objects on the ground, you’re made to take a natural, safer step.
From what I’ve experienced in my few weeks of walking barefoot, and from when I used to walk barefoot as a kid, it works. Just after one or two days of walking in this way you’ll see that you take much more natural, safe strides when you walk. I haven’t tried barefoot running, but that’s for other reasons. I’m told that it is very good for your joints to run barefoot, as you experience less impact due to smaller strides.
Shoes actually DAMAGE your feet and legs by forcing them to grow weaker over time. Because you’re never able to use your tiny stabilising muscles and tendons in your feet, they fade away and get weaker. This over the course of several months and years results in posture problems, foot problems and weaker legs.
But look, I don’t want to sell walking barefoot as some magical thing that has no down sides, and that you should just bin all your shoes right away. There are some things to bare in mind, and I would always suggest keeping a pair of shoes or boots.
Dangers of walking barefoot
There are some inherent dangers associated with walking shoeless all the time. Of course, you’re more susceptible to sharp objects like thorns or flint cutting your feet, at first.
Now, this is a difficult thing to discuss, as everyone has a sightly different opinion, but I’m going to share some of my experiences with this, and you can make your own mind up regarding whether or not walking without shoes is dangerous.
So, when you first start walking barefoot, you’ll find that your feet are not strong enough or tough enough to walk on most surfaces for longer than about 5 minutes. You might get a bit further but that’s the average, for your first day.
This is because you’ve spent your whole life waking within the sweaty confines of a shoe and socks. Your feet have grown weak as a result of you wearing shoes. If you didn’t wear shoes, your feet would be much stronger. So when you first start walking, you need to build it up slowly, or you’ll get blisters and all sorts of nasty things. Take it a day at a time, and try to increase the distance you walk gradually.
Building up your foot armour
After a while you’ll actually start to develop a strong thick section to your soles of your feet. This ‘foot armour’ will allow you to easily walk across things like conker shells, stones, gravel and all sorts of other sharp things. It’s quite amazing really, what you can do with your own body.
This takes a few weeks to months to build up however, so make sure that during that time you’re not pushing your feet TOO fa and too fast. In my book about barefoot walking which I’ll mention at the end of this post, I share a scary story about what happens when you push your feet too far. It involves nettles, and a drawing pin.
At first, you’ll only be able to walk short distances and certainly not over sharp objects. That’s normal because you’ve been walking with shoes your whole life. Imagine how strong tribes peoples feet are, because they’ve been walking barefoot all their lives. It’s just a matter of building it up.
Can you walk barefoot in Winter?
If you walk barefoot, your feet will be SORT OF safe. You won’t get ‘cut up’ or whatever you’re worried about, because you’ll develop a natural armoring on your feet. HOWEVER, it’s different in winter.
In winter, when it’s raining, cold, and wet almost all the time (depending on where you are) your feet are more exposed and vulnerable. You shouldn’t really walk barefoot in winter, because as you know, when your feet get wet, they soften. Think back to when you stayed in the bath for too long, your feet shrivel and become soft, right?
Exactly. You wouldn’t then want to walk across some sharp gravel, would you? your feet would get damaged. Use common sense with this, your feet DO develop a strength and a natural coating of tough skin if you walk barefoot, BUT in winter, this is broken down by the moisture.
Also, if it’s particularly cold you could get frostbite as a result of the blood in your feet freezing or becoming clogged. This is BAD. don’t walk barefoot in winter. As tough as your feet may be, they can’t resist extreme temperatures, and even people who walk barefoot their whole lives will still wear protection in extreme weather or temperatures.
For example, lots of parts of the world actually are ALREADY shoeless, think about places like South America, South Africa, parts of Asia, etc. These places are FULL of people who have been waking barefoot for generations. It’s really mainly the west that adopted wearing shoes in a major way.
It’s also the more Western world that has grown into a consumerist society, where everyone thinks they need to buy something to be happier. We’re tricked into buying all sorts of things like protein shakes, video games, shoes and all sorts. But in many areas of the world they just don’t wear shoes.
That being said in many places in the world, shoes are ESSENTIAL. Places where there’s a lot of ice, wet surfaces or really hot surfaces like deserts. So bare in mind that you might not be able to go barefoot 100% if you live in the wrong place! Just use your common sense, and think about whether going barefoot could damage your feet.
Sharp objects hurting your feet?
A common concern is that sharp objects will cut into your feet without shoes. So what did we do before shoes were invented? What do all the millions of people in the world who don’t wear shoes do?
Just sit around and not walk anywhere? Of course not. We walked barefoot for generations, in fact many cultures still do.
In countries where shoes are available, some entire communities just choose not to wear them. After all, we don’t NEED them, it’s only because society has deemed them the norm that everyone wears them.
Walking barefoot for 3 months will give you a type of ‘armour’ in the form of tough skin on your soles of your feet. Now don’t worry, this isn’t some sort of sandpaper dragon skin type thing, it’s much like leather. Your skin only on the soles of your feet becomes like leather, soft to touch, but very tough if you try to pierce it with something sharp.
I used to walk barefoot every day as a young adult, and after a few months I accidentally stepped on an upturned drawing pin in my room. Ironic right?! The one thing I step on is not on the ground outside, but in my own room. The pin pierced the skin about 1cm or so, (of course it did, it’s a pin, and I put all my weight onto it) BUT, this is the interesting thing.
It didn’t hurt. There was no blood, and after pulling it out, it was like it never happened. The skin and muscles etc around the foot were so tough that it was like it didn’t happen. Now, based on simple physics, if you step on a metal pin, it normally is going to pierce your skin. That’s common sense, BUT you’d be surprised how much your foot can resist in nature.
I used to frequently walk through country foot paths, sometimes with conker shells littering the ground. It didn’t even phase me, as my feet had become immune to the sharp objects found on the floor. Despite what you may think, most objects on the ground aren’t that sharp when you have tough feet. Nettles, thorns, conker shells, gravel, and even glass doesn’t tend to affect you AT ALL when you’ve built up your foot armour.
My barefoot journey
So, after reliving the experience of freedom that I had as a child, I’ve decided to go barefoot again this summer. In winter, it’s slightly harder to do, as the moisture and cold make your feet MUCH more vulnerable to damage. For the summer, and the dry parts of winter however, I’ll be barefoot.
I invite you to try it as well, if not for a lifetime, for one summer. Start slowly like I said, but build it up! It’s a great experience and you’ll enjoy the benefits such as being grounded and feeling less inflammation. I’ll keep you updates with my experiences of going barefoot on here, but until then, try it out!
Learning more about barefooting
So after years of researching and learning, I’ve finally created a book about walking barefoot from my notes and ideas, and it’s DETAILED. This book is a great way to get into walking barefoot and learning more about how it works.
Specifically, I go in depth on the science behind grounding, and how reducing free radicals through walking barefoot can change your LIFE by reducing inflammation and much more. It’s a really interesting read, and I know you’ll love it.
Resources for walking barefoot
Well, I could share lots of things here but specifically I want to share a few resources that you can use to walk barefoot faster. I’m not going to share pointless things, only useful tools.
If you’re coming here after reading my barefoot book, ‘Free Your Feet‘, this is the resources section I mentioned.
Grounding mats: A grounding mat is a piece of material that conducts electricity that you plug into your houses electrical system and it connects to the grounding plug. It won’t zap you but it only really works if your electrical system has 3 pins in the plugs, one for grounding.
The link above shows you a variety of grounding mats but really you want to look for one that has wristbands as well, in case you can’t take your shoes off in the office. The best one I found is this one because it’s super affordable and has the wristband straps.
Transitional shoes: As you’re starting to go barefoot, you’ll find that your posture will improve. To get grounding benefits, you either need to be walking barefoot on soil or grass, or plugged into a grounding mat. BUT if you just want the improved posture benefits, you might want to get transitional shoes.
The benefits come from being able to walk with a flatter foot that enables the toes to spread out more freely. you can actually get shoes that are pretty much socks with a thin layer of rubber on the bottom, so you get the protection from ice or water and sharp objects (although you don’t need that soon enough) BUT you get the posture benefits.
The best barefoot SOCK shoe I’ve found is the Skinners range which come in various sizes. This enables you to protect your feet from ice, they roll up very small just like real socks so they’re great for travel, and they give your feet and body the posture benefits of walking barefoot.