Walking Lessons From Babies
Wearing shoes has become a staple of civilized societies worldwide. In America, it is rare to see barefooted people in public unless you are at a beach or swimming pool. Public establishments often forbid shoeless patrons. Exposing your bare foot in public can even be considered rude in certain situations.
In the 1970’s, the footwear industry began marketing cushioned shoes with promises of increased comfort and decreased injury risk.
However, much like other “advances in civilizations,” mainstream acceptance has not resulted in positive benefits, and the promises of improvement went unfulfilled. We have all seen examples of how some of our “modern and civilized” practices can affect us for the worse, not for the better.
There are many problems caused by incorrect walking, which is a direct result of the faulty footwear we have become accustomed to wearing. A relatively small but growing body of research has found that barefoot living is a healthier alternative to wearing the cushioned, ergonomically incorrect footwear commonly found today. Concurrently, barefoot exercising appears to be safer and healthier than running and exercising with sneakers and common athletic training shoes.
There is strong evidence that shows that thick cushioned running shoes have done little to prevent injury in the years since they were invented and marketed. Earlier studies suggested that running in shoes may actually increase the risk of ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis and other injuries.
Going barefoot allows your foot to naturally flex and absorb shock. Common cushioned shoes allow our feet to move in ways that our feet were not designed to, putting excessive pressure on our bodies. They put our feet and lower legs in positions that are more vulnerable to stress and injury. Put simply, our feet were designed to be used without shoes. And when we cover our feet with extra padding and cushions, our bones, joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments are not used properly.
“People have been running barefoot for millions of years and it has only been since 1972 that people have been wearing shoes with thick, synthetic heels,” said Daniel Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University.
If you run and like to exercise, you may want to consider taking your workout to a higher level in terms of results and safety by shedding your footwear, or at least switching to another option with a more ergonomically correct natural style with minimal padding.
There are obvious concerns regarding barefoot running and exercising depending on the surface and terrain one is training on. Avoiding injury risks from stepping on sharp objects or rough surfaces is one of the primary appeals of some of the newer natural style shoes like Vibram’s Five-Finger foot gloves. They give you a similar feeling of running barefoot while working out to your arches, achilles tendons and calves, except you don’t have to worry about injuries from rough terrain.
A common problem among runners who switch too quickly to barefoot or minimal footwear is that too many runners jump too enthusiastically and quickly into minimal footwear and develop plantar fasciitis as a result. Like any lifestyle transition, take it slow, one step at a time and progress at your body’s own pace.
Although these new innovative shoes are a step in the right direction, there is a compelling reason why being barefoot beats the best of what technology has to offer.
Chris McDougall, author of the very inspiring book Born to Run, put it well when he said:
“The foot is the greatest disciplinarian. You can’t over-pronate, can’t over-train, can’t over-stride … if you do anything wrong, the foot will tell you `uh uh, don’t do that’. Shoes are like morphine: a sedative that deadens the pain.”
Perhaps this is why barefoot babies display correct walking technique. It is the way we were designed to move.
This is also another example of how we have forgotten how to communicate with our bodies. Pain and discomfort are what corrects our walking and running techniques. They are important symptoms that should not be ignored. They tell us what changes we need to make to maintain balance and keep us safe while moving. The common shoes on the market today cushions the pain and puts our feet and our health in a compromised position without realizing it.
Furthermore, barefoot living feels great. There are physiological benefits to barefoot outdoor activity. If you need first hand experience, go for a walk barefooted in a clean, grassy park or a beach. We all did it as babies and children. And we loved it. Now we can understand why.
Some studies have suggested that when you are “grounded,” in direct contact with the earth, free electrons can come up from the earth and nullify free radicals in your body to help eliminate pain and inflammation and improve overall health. For most of history, our ancestors did not wear shoes and had regular contact with the earth, either by walking, running or sleeping on the ground. Put simply, they were grounded through much of their lives, and most Americans these days are not.
Unfortunately, due to reasons already discussed, many Americans have little opportunity to spend time barefooted and grounded. However, there are technologies that are being used these days that can reconnect you to the earth while you are sleeping. There are many professional and Olympic athletes who are using this technology with promising results. Until this practice becomes mainstream, we can all attempt to reconnect with mother nature’s harmony by kicking the footwear aside and going barefoot whenever we have the chance. Just remember that we can not ground ourselves when we are on asphalt or concrete. The more you can walk barefoot on the ground, the more health benefits you can achieve.