Is going bare foot good for you?

I’ve been watching a man who lives near me walk to and from the train station every day with nothing on his feet – rain, hail or shine. He wears a business suit, so I believe this is a considered choice & not an oversight every morning. I really want to ask him what his philosophy is and why he does it, but haven’t quite gained the courage yet! People often ask me whether it is “good” to go bare foot, and the answer is yes, and no.

Wasn’t man designed to go bare foot?

Well yes, we weren’t born with protective coverings on our feet, so obviously we were intended to walk around at least some of the time with no shoes on! But how often will depend on a number of factors.

What are the benefits?

Most Podiatrists would agree that some time bare foot is great for airing out your feet to keep them healthy. Another benefit is that your feet can become stronger when walking on different surfaces, thus reducing your risk of injury. Walking with no shoes for periods time can counteract the ill effects of poorly fitted shoes - bad shoes can cause a lot of problems!

There is also evidence that time without shoes on can improve balance and proprioception (your body's ability to know where it is in space).

Taking a bit of a look around the internet I have found some pretty big claims about the benefits of barefoot walking but take them with a grain of salt.. some of the benefits stated are improved sleep, blood pressure control, improved posture and decreased chronic pain.

What are the downsides of walking barefoot?

Walking bare foot can be tricky for people with underlying conditions, especially those with diabetes or other neurological impairment. If you have a condition that does mean that you have a decreased sensation in your feet, it is best that you keep your feet covered to protect them from injury. Any small injury to the foot could potentially lead to much more serious consequences.

Going barefooted in communal areas such as swimming pools or gym showers is quite a normal thing, but can expose you to infection, like fungus (tinea) or even viral infection (verruca, otherwise known as warts).

Walking for long periods of time on hard surfaces with no shoes can lead to increased callus growth that can become painful over time, but can also lead to back pain due to a lack of shock absorption at your feet. The hard shock of every step can reverberate to your spine.

Studies have shown that walking bare foot actually increases the risk of falls in the elderly.

If you do have a foot problem, extended periods walking without shoes may actually increase or accentuate the issues you have.

Is it right for me?

If you are in good health and have none of the problems listed above, bare foot walking can be beneficial for short periods of time.

What about for kids?

Bare foot walking is beneficial for children and will allow their feet to develop naturally. More on that in another blog :)

Anything else I should consider?

Way, way back when cavemen roamed the world barefoot, they would have walked on grass, dirt, sand and occasionally rocks – these days our environment is much harder on our feet with concrete, tiles and the like as regular surfaces we walk on. The flooring of today is much harder on our feet, and hence we shouldn’t really expect to be able to walk everywhere without shoes!

I have foot pain! Should I try bare foot walking to make me feel better?

If you have an existing foot problem, it would be unlikely that tossing your shoes will improve your foot health in the short term. Your best course of action is to find out why your feet are hurting by having a consultation with your podiatrist – we can help you tailor a plan to get your feet feeling better so you can walk comfortably with bare feet into the future!