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How Walking Barefoot Affects Your Brain-Body Connection

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Shoes alter receptors in the feet, affect your stride or gait and prevent vital feedback from reaching your brain. Train your feet to return to their natural state by introducing them to natural surfaces like grass, mud, sand and then moving to concrete, asphalt, and harsh surfaces, such as rocks. Try this challenge: Walk bare feet on 20 ft of gravel or rocks for 30 days.

Rarely do people walk barefoot anymore. I often hear people say that they walk barefoot all the time at home, but I am talking about walking barefoot outside, climbing on rocks and trees, stepping on uneven surfaces and even running or hiking without shoes.

Footwear And Growing Foot Problems

Unfortunately we protect our feet so much from the world we live in that our feet provide very little information to our brains and you may feel more “unstable” without supportive shoes on. The use of orthotics has skyrocketed, but unless you were born with a malformation, you probably developed your foot problems over time. Babies clothed in the newest Nikes or other popular brand are definitely cute but at that early age in life, shoes already start to alter the receptors in the feet and alter biomechanics like your stride or gait.

Training Your Feet

The first step to training your feet to return to their natural healthy status is to introduce them to the natural environment. A variety of surfaces is best and starting from a comfortable surface such as grass and then moving your way up to more harsh surfaces, such as rocks is the next step. You can walk on grass, mud, sand, concrete, asphalt or sharper rocks as you work your way up to feeling comfortable being barefoot.

After a short amount of time of practicing walking barefoot (hence the 30 day challenge), your brain and feet will begin to work together once again and you will actually start to feel safer being barefoot. Each step you take will bring you more confidence and your stride and gait will improve naturally as you avoid artificial clunky shoes.

The Challenge

Step 1.  Find 20 feet of gravel or rocks (if you have super sensitive feet, try starting with sand, dirt, asphalt or sidewalks).

Step 2.  Walk 20 feet in rocks for 30 days straight. That’s it! If you have only 10 feet of gravel, then walk it twice.

Goals

There are 2 major goals of walking barefoot on rocks for 30 days:

1. Learning How to Walk Properly Again

Most people walk with heavy heel strikes, straight knees and an overall lack of attention to where their foot steps. Walking on sharp and pointy rocks quickly awakens your need to step softly, lightly and with a mid heel or mid foot contact. At first you may even be walking on your forefoot.

2. Invigorating Your Feet To Come Alive

At first you may feel some pain in the bottom of your feet. This “pain” can also be considered information. Over the course of 30 days your feet should feel much less “pain” information and provide much more movement information.

Learn How to Walk

Surprisingly enough, most people walk unnaturally. If you watch closely enough you can see children as young as 2 years old walking very unnaturally due to clunky shoes. By walking on rocks, you awaken your foot to a natural environment and stimulate them in ways you probably haven’t done in quite some time.

Shoes

As much as modern shoes have tried to improve the natural movement of the foot and the amazing things it can do, it has failed miserably.  Some people may feel that this is arguable, but if you look to any other joint, such as the neck, adding support, padding and bracing to the neck would only be used for cases of severe injury. The problem with most modern shoes is that by adding things like extra padding to our heels and boxing our toes into the small forefoot shape of modern shoes all day, our natural gait is changed.

Toes are meant to splay in order to feel and support out body, but in confined shoes, they no longer can do so. If you are wearing traditional clunky shoes, it is like walking around with a small cast on your foot all day. Anyone that has worn a cast for even 6 weeks knows that all the muscles inside the cast atrophy and lose strength. After a cast is removed, rehab is required. This 30 day challenge is the start of your rehab.

Nerves

There are thousands of nerves housed inside of your feet, just like in your hands. Your feet should be the most common contact you have with the outside environment and should provide you feedback that helps the rest of your body react to touch, pressure, temperature, balance and more. A naked foot provides the best proprioceptive sense to help you knees and hips know how to align and stay injury free.

When your nerves aren’t exposed to new surfaces (rocks) then your feet lose sensitivity precision and the ability to provide reliable information. You may even think that walking gingerly on rocks is painful. Alternatively, natural barefoot walking is invigorating to the nervous system. It improves neurological input to the brain, which not only strengthens your nervous system but also can help combat things such as depression because the brain needs stimulation, blood flow and oxygen in order to keep you happy.

So if you haven’t started your 30 day challenge, go outside, find some natural terrain and get your brains connected back to your feet.

Dr. Houston Anderson

I love functional medicine. I love physical medicine. The problem is that I rarely find a practitioner that combines the two. My focus is just that combining the best of both worlds.

Dr. Houston Anderson

I love functional medicine. I love physical medicine. The problem is that I rarely find a practitioner that combines the two. My focus is just that combining the best of both worlds.