The Truth About Barefoot Walking

We had a response to one of our recent posts about “going barefoot”. The question referenced Bernarr McFadden, a famous bodybuilder of the early 1900s and credited with being the “Father of Physical Culture”, who was said to have walked 25 miles barefoot to his office every day. Yes, that does seem a little extreme!

You can certainly argue some health benefits of going barefoot. For one, having the feet exposed to air and light reduces the incidence of fungal infections and other skin conditions of the feet. Also, the muscles of the feet and lower legs function differently during barefoot walking than while wearing shoes, which is likely to result in better strength and development of those muscles.

However, in modern society the risks of barefoot walking, at least outside the home, definitely outweigh those potential benefits. The most obvious risk is injuring the feet by stepping on a sharp object or accidentally kicking something. Let’s face it – our sidewalks and streets are designed for shoes and tires, not bare feet. There is also the risk of injuring muscles or tendons during barefoot walking because very few of us have feet that have been walking without shoes for any length of time. We’ve been in shoes since we started walking and have never “developed” that type of muscle strength.

The take-home message from Sol Foot & Ankle Centers when it comes to barefoot activity is to do so with caution and in moderation. It’s nice to bare the feet for periods of time while at home in order to “air them out”. You might also develop some new muscle strength and function by doing some light activity while barefoot, but don’t overdo it and risk foot problems. For those looking to incorporate barefoot activity in their exercise, we recommend first finding a safe surface on which to exercise, such as on the beach or a nice grass field at the park. Barefoot exercise should be started very gradually and built up slowly by incorporating it as only part of a workout and not the entire workout, initially.

Yes, there are pros and cons to barefoot activity. If you want to give it a go just proceed with caution and do so a little bit at a time in order to get the maximum benefit without risk of injury. If you would like your feet checked to see if barefoot activity might be the thing for you then schedule an appointment with a local podiatrist for evaluation.

Richard H. Graves, DPM
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Podiatrist, Sports Medicine Specialist
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