For many it is obvious and instinctual that going barefoot is good for you. Yes! I agree! And children naturally know this!
I had forgotten how profoundly beneficial it was to go barefoot until – around 8 months ago – when my boys and I started learning Taekwondo together (Taekwondo is widely practised barefoot). I found that one of the most challenging issues for me was just that – moving around barefoot! I discovered my feet muscles were underdeveloped through wearing shoes 99% of the time. This had caused misalignment in my body, underdeveloped muscles, and consequential balance issues. Oh dear! Not to be misunderstood, I have always loved the idea of going barefoot and the freedom this brings! Due to certain living arrangements and sensory issues; however, I had somehow grown dependent on wearing shoes, and missed out on the benefits of barefoot playing! I knew I wanted to change this, and I wanted to ensure my kids had the chance to benefit from my experience. I decided to delve further into the studies surrounding the barefoot movement!
In a nutshell I discovered that the benefits of barefoot = kids getting strong and grounded! Let’s look further at why it is so beneficial for our kids to going shoe-less!
First of all I’m going to discuss my favourite reason for going barefoot: Kids being grounded (no, not THAT type of ‘grounded’! )!
‘Grounding’ is also known as Earthing!
Earthing – aka ‘Grounding’ – is just being barefoot on the earth! Sounds simple, and it is! Earthing is being barefoot on dirt, sand, or grass specifically, as opposed to surfaces like asphalt or carpet.
What Happens When You are Earthing?
I learnt that when you put your body directly in contact with the earth via bare feet, it creates balance within your internal bio electrical system. What happens is that your bare feet absorb negatively charged ions from the earth itself. The earth is negatively charged and has a far greater negative charge than your body. Among other things, these negative ions absorb free radicals in our body. These free radicals have been proven to cause inflammation and oxidative damage to our cells.
According to Ober, Sinatra (M.D.) and Zucker, in their ground breaking book ‘Earthing. The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?’, “…your
body becomes suffused with negative-charged free electrons abundantly present
on the surface of the Earth. Your body immediately equalizes to the same
electric energy level, or potential, as the Earth.”
Earthing seems to stabilize and promote normal functioning of all the body systems, restoring your body’s internal electrical functions through the uptake of negative ions. Research has demonstrated that earthing reverses an ‘electron deficiency’, which then reduces inflammation – the common underlying factor in all bodily disease.
Earthing allows you to return your body back to its natural electrical state. It is then able to self-regulate and self-heal. If our kids’ bodies can self-regulate in this way – and in such a natural and enjoyable way – it also becomes much easier for them to self-regulate emotionally and cognitively (See here for more information to help our kids to self-regulate).
As you can see, the ramifications of earthing for our health are substantial! A summary of 12 peer reviewed studies conducted by The Journal of Environment and Public Health, found that earthing :
- Reduces inflammation
- Prevents and stops damage to the cells
- Decreases pain
- Results in better Sleep
- Increases energy levels
- Calms the nervous system and decreases stress levels
- Normalizes the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body
- Improves Mood
- Thins the blood and improves circulation and blood pressure
- Improves cardiovascular function
- Improves healing time and muscle repair
- Improves blood sugar regulation
- Prevents loss of bone density.
- Powerfully reduces electro magnetic fields (EMFs) on the body
The last point is of much interest and relief to me, and I’m sure, to many of you also! EMFs are unavoidable, and part of how our societal environment works. I intend to educate my kids on nature’s anti-dote to technological ‘devices’! I know that the more we experience the balancing effects of earthing for ourselves, the easier it will be to naturally self-regulate when it comes to time on ‘devices’ and being around areas of high EMFs, versus time outdoors.
We’ve discussed the benefits of being grounded through being barefoot. Now let’s talk about how going barefoot makes our kids physically strong!
Strong Feet – Strong Body
After much research I’ve formed the picture that health and strength actually start with the feet! It makes sense. The feet support, balance, hold, and transport your body. They convey electrical signals and information to the brain regarding the environment and how to move the muscles of the body. They also contain reflexology pressure points, corresponding to different parts of the body, enabling a further avenue for healing and restoration. Pretty impressive really!
Patrick McKeon, Professor at Ithaca College, School of Health Sciences and Human Performance, explains that walking barefoot enables our foot muscles to send signals to our larger leg muscles and core muscles, via a feedback loop. Sensory information from thousands of nerve endings on the soles of our feet assist us to make subtle adjustments as we walk. Going barefoot protects our balance, improves our posture and prevents injuries like shin splints, plantar fasciitis and other painful injuries.
The main anatomical benefits of going barefoot are:
- Strengthening and stretching the ligaments, tendons, and muscles in the feet and legs.
- Strengthening the core and back muscles
- Improving balance, co-ordination, and body awareness (proprioception)
- Stimulating the Reflexology pressure points
Daniel Lieberman, Evolutionary Biologist from Harvard, points out that normal wearing of shoes can cause you to ‘land on your heel’, an un natural and jarring action. Wearing shoes for too long throughout the childhood years can cause muscles to weaken, and tendons and ligaments to shorten. This impairs balance, and consequently increases the risk of foot, ankle, and leg injuries.
Likewise, Bio-Mechanist, Katy Bowman, suggests that ‘footwear can interfere with the development of foot strength, ankle stability, general nerve health, and gait patterns’…..’The shoes alter human movement’, she says.
Bowman reflects that shoes have purpose, but that the trade-off for protection can be reduced whole-body health if we don’t pick the right shoes for our body and skill-level.
Going barefoot has undeniable health benefits. Earthing while barefoot is an amazing therapy, yielding substantial health benefits for us and our kids! And it’s free!! Going barefoot in general, whether earthing outside, or in an indoor environment, is a wonderful strengthening gift to our feet and to our entire body.
The idea is that our feet and body thrive best when allowed to be shoe-less! However, it is clear that for a substantial amount of the time in this modern day environment, our kids need to wear shoes for protection, warmth (in some areas of the world), and comfort.
Ideally shoes should protect the foot and allow it to function without preventing or inhibiting movement. My next article will look at ideas for shoes that allow such function, and best support healthy foot development.
I hope you have enjoyed this subject! I certainly enjoyed delving into the world of barefoot research and sharing this with you!
Thank you for stopping by, and please share your thoughts and experiences of barefoot bliss! (or otherwise!)