Why walking barefoot can actually help your feet

The allure of moving naturally, with the potential for fewer injuries and stronger feet, has captivated runners and walkers for years. This fascination gained momentum when Born to Run, a book about long-distance barefoot runners in Mexico, sparked a global interest in a barefoot and minimalist lifestyle.

Now, over a decade later, a growing body of research continues to demonstrate that going barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes can help to restore foot strength, increase muscle size, and improve gait: In a 2021 study in Nature, participants wearing minimalist footwear increased their foot strength by an average of 57.4 percent over six months. The study also showed improved balance and a reduced risk of falls. Going barefoot is especially crucial for children, says Galahad Clark, seventh-generation cobbler and founder of minimalist footwear brand Vivobarefoot, as this period is when foot strike is established. 

Modern vs. minimalist footwear

“Our feet are actually really strong and resilient and can cope with the demands we place on them, but we don’t use them as nature intended,” says Rina Harris, a functional podiatrist based in London. “We have 33 joints in our feet, and [our feet] move on three different planes. So they’re meant to mold to the terrain we walk on.” But modern footwear has restricted our natural movement patterns, affecting our gait and even the structure of our feet.

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“Most modern shoes have quite a tapered toe box, which means our toes are scrunched together and you can’t really press down or engage your toes, therefore also engage your intrinsic foot muscles,” Harris says. Additionally, cushioned midsoles reduce sensory input, making it harder to feel the ground beneath us. This may contribute to poor posture, reduced balance over time, and even arch collapse, leading to musculoskeletal issues. 


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