Remember back when I talked about your toilet being a health hazard? Well, here I go again… about to rat out one of the most basic aspects of human living. Shoes. And I’m not just talking about the obvious death-defying fashion faux pas here… Nope. Unfortunately, the vast majority of shoes we have access to in our modern world aren’t doing us any good. In fact, there’s a good chance that even your favorite pair of “exercise” shoes are a health hazard.
A brief look at the history of shoes
Sandals are some of the earliest known shoes, dating back between 7,000 or 8,000 B.C. (1). Researchers guess that shoes actually existed long before this time, but it’s difficult to find any evidence of the earliest footwear. But all early shoes shared a common purpose: To protect feet against harsh conditions.
The idea of protecting the foot is a good one, for a lot of reasons. But for most early cultures, shoes were used only during those times of harsh conditions. Well, that and some unfortunate fashion trends spattered throughout history that made foot decorations and other unmentionable foot practices all the rage (Chinese foot binding, anyone?). Still, many people lived most of their life barefoot or with very minimal foot coverings.
A sudden paradigm shift
In a relatively short time (50 or so years, really) the idea of shoes has change dramatically. It’s been an evolutionary shift where shoes are no longer seen as protection but as a necessary device to assist in function. The marketing world tell us that we need shoes that provide the right kind of arch support, or cushioning, or ankle support, or…. etc. etc. etc.
And of course, all that “support” comes at a hefty price, literally and figuratively.
I get that some people have really high arches or really flat feet. (Sadly, most of these are a result of our shoe-wearing society…) Many podiatrist (not all, thankfully) are still caught in the mind-frame that the body is inherently weak and needs fancy shoes and orthotics to compensate for our feet’s problems.
Don’t believe them.
From everything I’ve learned about the human body (which I’ve been studying for well over a decade now), this just isn’t true. The human body is an amazingly complex and capable instrument. And if we’d stop letting technology and fashion get in the way, it can function quite well on its own.
Why I don’t buy the arch support argument
Let me ask you this… how many bridges have you seen that require something extra to hold it up in the middle? Unless the bridge is failing, not a single one. That’s because the whole idea of the arch is support.
The physics behind a bridge’s ability to carry its load is by having both support ends flat and level. When you look at most modern shoes, is it any wonder so many people are having arch support issues? Most shoes have a raised heel that destroys the integrity of the foot’s natural support system. And since the feet are the foundation of our body, when they ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
Use it or lose it: The real secret to arch support
Once you start relying on shoes, orthotics, or any other manufactured system for support your muscles no longer have to do the work. That’s when your issues get bigger. And while many orthotics or other arch support accessories may temporarily get rid of the pain in the beginning, they do not solve the bigger problem at hand. In fact, they make it worse.
Many runners with high arches find that their feet take a healthier form, with picture-perfect arches, after just a few months of running barefoot. With use, previously atrophied muscles regain much of their natural strength. -Ashish Mukharji, Run Barefoot, Run Healthy
In other words, you feet were designed to be bare.
But our shoes do more than just ruin the integrity of our arches. Our modern shoes are also major contributors to things such as:
- Chronic shin splints
- Plantar fasciitis
- IT band syndrome
- Bunions, corns, foot fungus
In fact, most of the things we think are “gross” about feet are simply because we stuff them inside of these restrictive barriers or foot-like coffins.
Besides, shoes keep us from sensing the world.
One of the things that I hate most about shoes is how disconnected I am from the world. Our feet have an estimated 100,000 – 200,000 exteroceptors in each sole (3). In fact, our feet are among the most nerve-rich parts of our body. When we walk, run, dance, or live barefoot we are able to track, sense, and adapt to our world infinitely better than if we cut off those sensations with shoes.
Is it any wonder that most barefoot runners report drastically fewer injuries and a better running career when they ditched the shoes (3)?
The truth is: You move differently when you are connected to the ground. You are less likely to endure serious injuries because you aren’t hiding the impact of each step. You step lighter, freer, and your form and alignment improve naturally.
Benefits of going barefoot:
- Improved arch support without paying loads of money for artificial supports that will only weaken your own natural arch.
- Less impact on joints because you are aware of your steps instead of hiding it with cushioning.
- Better form and alignment as you allow your feet to help track and guide your movement.
- No more gross fungus, bunions, and bad smells that come from constant shoe wearing.
A few other benefits of going barefoot:
Going barefoot has some tremendous health benefits beyond just improved arch support, decreased injury, and more enjoyment in your movement. One of the greatest benefits of barefootin’ lies within the concept of earthing. Check out this post to learn more about why connecting to the earth may be one of the greatest things you do for your life.
I hope we can all agree that toxic chemicals are a threat to our health. Well, turns out that ditching the shoes can provide the health benefits of reducing home toxins by quite a bit. Check it out here.
Help the Environment: Help your Health
The carbon footprint of a single pair of 12 oz running shoes is about 143 pounds of CO2 (4). The various chemicals and substances that make up the average running shoe are definitely not very eco-friendly, with several parts lasting up to 1,00 0 years in a landfill. And considering how quickly the dedicated runner with go through shoes (an average of more than 3 pairs a year), ditching our shoes can help improve the environment which is always good for our health.
So should I ditch my shoes completely?
In a perfect world we’d be able to run, walk, and go inside stores barefoot. Moccasins or other barefootin’ friendly protection would be fashionably acceptable for those extreme weather days.
I don’t need to tell you that we don’t live in a perfect world, right? And the truth is, I still wear shoes when I need to. I wear shoes when I go to church (although I said “goodbye” to heels a long time ago. Flats for me, thankyouverymuch). I wear shoes to the store… because you usually have to. I wear shoes to most social engagements because I’m already branded as the weirdo and I don’t need any more ammunition for my friends and family.
But I don’t wear shoes in my home. And I don’t wear shoes when I’m outside if the weather permits. I have a pair of “barefoot” shoes that I use rarely for those harsh days when I really want to go outside for a walk or run (and while most barefoot and minimalism shoes are WAY better than the bulky athletic shoe, they still are not as good actual barefoot).
It’s up to you to decide what your comfort zone is, but I urge you to take a few steps (no pun intended) toward a more barefoot life. Any time your feet are free from the bondage of modern technology is better than nothing at all.
What about you? Do you go barefoot?
Want to learn more about barefoot running? These are two great books with lots of great info:
1. Connolly, Tom. “The World’s Oldest Shoes.”.University of Oregon. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
2. DeMello, Margo (2009). Feet and Footwear: A Cultural Encylopedia.. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, LLC. pp. 20–24, 90, 108, 130–131, 226–230.ISBN 978-0-313-35714-5.
4. Ashish Mukharji, Run Barefoot, Run Healthy