Between 40,000 and 26,000 years ago, human beings made an elective decision that changed the course of humanity forever. They started wearing shoes. In colder climates it is even believed that humans began covering up their feet around 500,000 year ago. Although scientific theories differ as to why we started wearing shoes, several common ideas prevail. For example, the time that we started wearing shoes corresponds with certain social changes humans were making. Paul Mellars, professor of prehistory and human evolution at the University of Cambridge, UK, says there were “dramatic changes” in human behavior at this time “From 35,000 years ago onward, you see the first art, the first stone tools, and the first personal decorations and jewelry.”
In addition, labor began to be divided. Agriculture started to replace hunting as the main source of sustenance. Other precise tools were invented, such as sewing needles. So, it seems as though shoes had less to do with protection being required, and more to do with the fact that we had the time and resources to consider covering our feet. After all, warming your feet helps to maintain your entire body’s temperature. And about 40,000 years ago, we were able to think less about where our next meal was coming from, and more about how to make ourselves more comfortable.
In the modern world, there are much better reasons to wear shoes. Concrete is dirty, litter is everywhere, and most of the world more than half of the world lives in urban environments. But what have we lost by severing the connection between our feet and the earth? As with most human inventions, shoes have altered our biology significantly since we’ve adapted to a new mechanism that the human body wasn’t designed to use. Our toes are much weaker than those of our ancestors. There are surprising health benefits to kicking off our shoes and letting our feet commune with the ground.
Walking barefoot restores the body to its natural walking position, or gait. The shoes of the modern world are laced with technology that supports the heels, provides cushioning, and elevates and depresses the step, in varying levels. The muscle groups we would have used to keep our spines erect and our gaits strong and regular aren’t being used and aren’t as strong as they would have been. When the small muscles in the feet have a barrier between them and the ground they’re walking on, it dilutes the information that they send to the larger muscles in the legs, and the messages that they send to the spine. Walking barefoot improves our natural posture and balance.
HITTING REFLEX POINTS
The science of reflexology explains this. Reflex points on your hands and feet are able to stimulate nerve functions to help you have more energy, better circulation, fewer headaches, more beneficial sleep, and reduced depressive symptoms. When you walk barefoot, you’re stimulating the reflex points in your feet that chronic feet-coverers don’t expose to the world. Walking barefoot allows the muscles in your feet to grow stronger, and the reflex points in your feet to be activated more regularly.
THE CONCEPT OF EARTHING
The earth has a negative ionic charge. Our bodies are made up mostly of water, which is an excellent electrical conductor. What this means is that walking barefoot is a great way to connect to the earth’s negative ionic charge. Research suggests that exposing your body to negative ions, either through the air, sunlight, or the earth, can reduce the symptoms of depression, influence cognitive performance, increase metabolism, regulate circadian rhythms, increase immune function, and promote antimicrobial activity.
As stated in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, “Mounting evidence suggests that the Earth’s negative potential can create a stable internal bioelectrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems. Moreover, oscillations of the intensity of the Earth’s potential may be important for setting the biological clocks regulating diurnal body rhythms, such as cortisol secretion.” Read the full study here.
Since it likely isn’t safe to go barefoot in an urban environment, exercise good judgement when deciding to go barefoot. Shoes serve the purpose of keeping our feet warm and preventing injury. So whenever possible – in your home, on bare grass, at the beach – slip off your shoes and go barefoot. 30 minutes will confer all these benefits:
- reduce the symptoms of depression
- influence cognitive performance
- increase metabolism
- regulate circadian rhythms (sleep better)
- increase immune function