Why Don’t We Walk Barefoot More Often?

Barefoot walking is toughening, sensational, super cool-ing, biologically sound, and fun. Plus is saves money on socks and shoes.


I noticed something this morning as I was walking along Cape Town’s Sea Point promenade.

It was a perfect day: warm, sunny, no wind. Hundreds of people were out walking and jogging. To avoid getting sweaty, nasty, and needlessly uncomfortable, everyone wore summery clothing—shorts, t-shirts, etc. Their feet weren’t so fortunate, though. They were dressed for winter, stuffed into socks and shoes, sweating and stinking away.


Barefoot Is Toughening

If we were to poll everyone I saw, what do you suppose would be the most common answer to, “Why aren’t you barefoot?”

My guess: “To protect my feet.”

Most people’s feet are a microcosm of themselves: over-coddled, overprotected, and over-cushioned. Walking barefoot on the cement promenade would be as uncomfortable for them as:

  • A cold shower.
  • Sleeping on a camping mat (or the floor).
  • Having to listen to the waves and their thoughts instead of their headphones.
  • Being deprived of the option of oat or almond milk when they go to the café afterward.

I don’t mean to suggest everyone abandon their shoes to walk and jog along the promenade barefoot. Achilles tendinitis taught me the hard way that hammering your feet atop unforgiving pavement hurts. For unnaturally hard surfaces, unnaturally soft foot protection makes sense.

Lucky for all us soft-footed folk, parallel to the prom’s cement is wonderfully soft, fresh, dewey grass. Why not make use of this lovely natural cushion that has been laid out for us?

Barefoot Is Sensational

Another excuse not to walk barefoot: “It’s dirty!”

Yes, the grass beside the cement promenade does grow atop dirt. Filthier still, dogs, birds, and young children often pee and poo on it. And when it gets wet from sprinklers or rain, everything gets extra sticky. Good thing feet are waterproof and most of us don’t put them in our mouths.

Nobody wants to wash crap out of their toenails, though, so it makes sense to take a bit more care about where you step when you walk barefoot.

But I’d argue that this requisite additional awareness is a good thing. So too are the sensations of my feet’s 33 joints and 26 bones moulding around each uneven, unique step. It energizes my brain. And by “energize,” I am not referring to getting energy from the earth, or whatever the earthing/grounding pseudoscientists claim. If earth’s currents charge your chakra through your soles, bonus.

Barefoot Is Super Cool(-ing)

What about when it rains?

Barefoot walking through mud and puddles is delightful.

What if it’s freezing cold?

Then wear boots if you want to stay warm. Take it from Dr. Craig Heller, a “world expert on the science of temperature regulation.” In his appearance on The Huberman Lab podcast, he explains that your feet, hands, and face are the most important conduits for controlling your body temperature.

So cover your feet up to stay warm. And air them out to keep cool on hot days like today.

Barefoot Is Life-Extending(?)

“What if I’m not so fortunate to live close to grass, sand, or other barefoot-friendly walking paths?”

Well, I hope for your sake your hometown has a whole lot more going for it. If not, I suggest you consider changing your stomping grounds. You’re playing an uphill game of life by living far from nature.

Food for thought:

All of the world’s “blue zones” with the highest incidence of centenarians are full of barefoot-friendly walking options:

  • Sardinia, Italy
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  • Icaria, Greece
  • Loma Linda, California, United States

While this argument for barefoot walking is a ridiculous stretch, next time you’re out stretching your legs on your own (in shoes or not), consider listening to this podcast episode:

Move to Your Happy Place, The Happiness Lab Podcast with Dr. Laurie Santos

Barefoot Is Biologically Sound

Katy Bowman shares a bunch of science about the mechanics and benefits of getting your feet out of the “casts” of shoes in her book Move Your DNA.

One of Bowman’s arguments in favor of barefoot walking is that it fixes your stride. Without cushioning, you’ll naturally shorten your step and move your bodyweight forward to minimize the impact on your feet.

Barefoot Is Fun

Nothing Bowman wrote is the main reason I decided to take off my sandals and walk barefoot today, though

I just did it because it feels better. Fresher. More fun. Childish, even. My toddler son Zac knows what I’m saying. He invariably takes his shoes off when we go walking together.

And I hope he keeps at it as he grows up, whenever he has the chance.

You do what you want.

Just please don’t wear your shoes inside. That’s disgusting.

About the author

👋 I'm Chris. Everything you read on TheZag.com is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

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