From the Ground Up
DISCLAIMER: This is not a recommendation to go barefoot at all times. Only when in safe, sanitary, and appropriate environments is it a good idea to go without wearing shoes as a protective tool. When in doubt, wear shoes to ensure safety.
Let’s go back to a time where there were no computers, smart phones, or self-driving cars. Then go back even further to a point where there was not even any industrialization at all. Think back to the original human beings that walked on Earth and what they used to get around from place to place. It wasn’t a car, it wasn’t a train, it wasn’t a wagon, or even a horse. Rather, it was their own two feet. Their feet were in contact with the ground regardless of the terrain and were able to sense, feel, and tolerate any surfaces or environments they encountered.
Now let’s fast-forward a bit and think about mammals that are on this planet currently. Dogs, cats, elephants, wolves, horses, or any other animal that you like to see at the zoo or in the wild. Do any of these animals wear protective casts or coverings that prevent their feet from communicating and interacting with the ground? Definitely not, and although shoes absolutely have their place as with any other invention the human species has come up with, we have taken the use of shoes to an extreme measure that may be causing more harm than good.
A shoe is essentially a cast that forces your foot into a confined space. This influences your toes to cram together, your foot to alter the functioning of its arches, and your foot to lose most of the feedback information from the ground through sensation and vibrations. Your foot is highly populated with nerve endings to detect the environment and inform your body as to what is on the ground beneath you. It is the only aspect of your body that consistently touches the ground, so this is an important feedback system to provide information to your body about your environment and surroundings.
Now think about what happens to an arm or leg after taking a cast off after months of immobilization. Or think about what happens to your ankle, wrist, or knee when you wear a brace or put tape around it when you go to perform specific activities. That area loses its ability to receive and provide necessary information, begins to deform and lose important strength qualities, and lacks the ability to move in its traditional and unrestricted form. This is extremely important to consider once you realize how often you wear shoes, as this is essentially encouraging your body to reduce function and sensory awareness every single day, for a majority of the day. And this has both short and long-term implications. A building without a stable foundation is at-risk of deforming and breaking at any part of the structure above, and your body is no different. It all starts from the ground-up (however, top-down feedback is also essential to this process and equally as important, but that is a discussion for another day).
As with any topic of discussion or debate in life, I do not believe the question should be whether or not we should wear shoes at all, but, rather, a matter of asking what is the appropriate dosage, and what situations are appropriate to be barefoot as opposed to wearing shoes. I personally believe unless the environment is professional, unsafe, or unsanitary that going barefoot is more than likely better than wearing shoes. Obviously certain environments require that you wear shoes such as work, religious events, and public establishments to name a few. And certain conditions such as hiking, bad weather, working out or training, and competing athletically dictate that you wear additional protection to reduce the risk for injury, harm, or illness. However, when not in an environment where you are putting yourself in harm’s way, or putting yourself at-risk to be ridiculed or punished, then I personally believe going barefoot will provide benefits while wearing shoes may cause more harm.
When you initially adopt this lifestyle change your feet will be sensitive to new environments but as time goes on your body will progressively adapt and get accommodated to the novel situations you are getting yourself into. A few practical recommendations would be to not wear shoes or socks when at home, go for walks barefoot in safe and warm environments (like the beach or your yard), exercise barefoot when no tools are present and you are in an environment that allows this (such as your living room or bedroom), and look to walk over or stand on safe, but novel environments on occasion. These environments can include: soft rocks, rubber, grass, sand, dirt, mud, turf, or any other non-invasive and unharmful surface. At first it will feel uncomfortable and threatening, but eventually you will adapt and get used to the new norm.
I can personally tell you that I try to go barefoot as much as possible and now can notice when I wear shoes for too long as my joints begin to bother me, specifically my feet. I now have stronger and more aware feet than I ever have, and I feel more healthy and athletic than I ever have as well. This is certainly multi-factorial but I definitely attribute part of this to my lifestyle decision to wear shoes less. I believe socks have a similar effect on the feet as shoes do, however it is much less impactful and troublesome. Moral of the story, get out into the natural world more, and let your feet explore the ground. Your joints will thank you!