Our feet are our foundation. Anything affecting their ability to function will have an effect higher up. So taking care of our feet is equivalent to caring for our whole body. I can summarize what I’ve learned so far about keeping feet healthy in two words: go barefoot.
Our bodies are not designed to be shod. Confining our feet in shoes causes our muscles to become weak and atrophied, and also affects our walking gait—impacting not only our feet but our ankles, knees, hips, and on up the chain. Studies have shown that people who regularly go barefoot have a decreased frequency of foot related injuries and conditions, healthier muscle tone and arches, and better overall posture. In addition, being barefoot increases blood circulation and nerve conduction because of the increased mobility of the foot muscles.
However, I don’t intend to persuade readers to instantly cast off their shoes for good—for two reasons. Firstly, going barefoot–for more than a short stroll–takes time and gradual transitioning. Reawakening those foot muscles must be done slowly enough to not injure them as they learn to work without the padded splints they’ve worn almost since birth, not to mention the skin needs time to thicken. (I’m currently experimenting with this myself, and I’ll return to this subject when I’ve grown some proper soles.) Secondly, there’s a reason people started wearing shoes. For many, particularly construction workers and people who stand around in the snow a lot, going barefoot is just not practical.
So instead, I’d like to share some fun, easy ways to incorporate more movement into the life of your feet. They may not be as effective as completely going barefoot all the time, but they can help improve mobility and circulation in the feet, a benefit for the entire body.
People with chronic pain or discomfort in their feet, legs, knees, or hips.
Any person who wears shoes.
These first two exercises are really simple and focus on improving the range of motion in your feet. You can do them anywhere and anytime, even while wearing shoes if they aren’t too tight. Some really great times to do them are first thing when you wake up in the morning before you get out of bed, and when you’re sitting for a long period of time and have a chance to take off your shoes, such as at your desk at work, on a plane trip, or watching TV. Repeat them as many times as you feel like, as often as feels appropriate.
- Clench your toes together like you’re making a fist with your foot. Then try to spread your toes out as wide as possible. If you have trouble doing it, you probably wear shoes often. Don’t get too frustrated, even just trying to make these movements is beneficial.
- Point your feet up towards your head, then down away from your body. Then turn your foot in and out as far as you can. Make sure the movement comes from your ankles and feet, not your legs. If the movement feels a little stiff and maybe strange, but not painful, then this is probably a great exercise to practice.
The next two exercises are more fun and can be a great group activity. I especially enjoyed doing the first one both with my mom when I was little and later in life with my fellow classmates as a break from studying for exams. Just remember: no hands allowed!
- Get a big stack of old magazines and give one to each participant. Then tear the pages off the magazines using only your toes. Try to only tear one page off at a time. You can also use your toes to scrunch the torn pages up into balls.
- Pick up things with your feet! Start with easier stuff, like socks, marbles, leaves, twigs, and move on to more difficult objects. Make a competition out of it. You can also play on your own: practice picking up a golf ball with your toes while sitting at your work desk or watching a movie. Even if you don’t successfully pick the object up, you are still exercising your muscles.
Another way to wake up those foot muscles is to take a short barefoot walk once a day somewhere with soft ground, such as a grassy field, sandy beach, or the hallways of your apartment complex. Notice if you start stepping differently than you do with shoes on. If your feet start hurting just put your shoes back on for the rest of the way.
If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of going barefoot, here are a few links I found useful:
Nutritious Movement: a huge amount of information, keep scrolling to older posts for some interesting reads.