As well as being a sensuous experience, walking barefoot has a great influence on how your feet develop, your gait and your physical capabilities. These are the insights from the latest research done by Karsten Hollander, a sports medicine expert from Hamburg.
His study, conducted with sports medicine specialists in Hamburg and South Africa, compared children in South Africa who go barefoot with others of the same age who wear shoes. It emerged that the shoe-wearing kids were more likely to be flat-footed, be able to jump less far from standing, and be less skilled at balancing on a narrow bar than children of the same age who grew up barefoot. For this reason Hollander advises parents to let their kids run around barefoot more often.
Other studies have shown that going barefoot stimulates the circulation, boosts metabolism and improves the sense of balance, as well as strengthening the muscles, tendons and ligaments. In some cases going barefoot can even help allay back problems and varicose veins, and correct misalignments of the foot.
Not wearing shoes from dawn till dusk, however, is not advisable. At first going barefoot is very strenuous for the muscles. You also don't have the necessary calluses to protect you from blisters and soreness.
Even so, you can run around barefoot on the lawn at home, or take off your shoes briefly in the woods and walk along the bed of a stream – as long as you take care not to slip. If you want to stay on the safe side, try running barefoot on a woodchip trail.
When you're starting out you may also want to try a barefoot or Kneipp trail. These are specially prepared paths with sections of flat stones, fine pebbles, water, woodchips, clay or sand that help you get a feel for walking barefoot.
When you take off your shoes you should look out for sharp objects, pieces of metal, shards and thorns. Those allergic to bee or wasp stings should walk with great care, especially around flowers, where the insects like to hang out.