Sarah Wassner Flynn is a New York City-based writer. She's contributed to magazines such as CosmoGIRL!, National Geographic Kids, Runner's World, Women's Health, Prevention and MetroSports New York. She is also the author of The Book of ...
Oh, your aching feet! From too-small sandals to unsupportive, flat flip-flops, summertime shoes can wreak major havoc on your tootsies. If you are hoping for some healing, why not spend a bit of time barefoot? After all, there is no time like the summer to take a shoeless stroll through the grass. Plus, your feet will get a breather and a welcome relief from too-tight thongs or flats. So, if you are ready to go bare, read on for more benefits, plus tips on staying safe while going shoeless.
According to experts, walking or running barefoot develops muscle strength in the feet, legs, and hips, which are usually used less rigorously when locked up in restrictive shoes. Plus, you will stretch and strengthen your calf muscles as well as improve your walking or running form, agility, and equilibrium. It is no wonder, then, that many top-notch runners routinely finish their workouts with a few barefoot sprints in the grass. However, if you have certain serious medical ailments, like poor circulation, diabetic neuropathy, and open skin fissures, experts stress that you should leave the shoes on.
Nothing beats the heightened sensory experience that comes with feeling the sand (or grass or dirt) between and beneath your toes. Just ask the 800 members of the Society for Barefoot Living, who sport the shoeless look 24/7. And yep, that involves driving, shopping, and even eating out!
Obviously, a paved road pitted with potholes and potential glass is not the place to ditch your shoes. Instead, stick to sturdy but soft surfaces like golf courses (go early or late when golfers aren't around), athletic fields, parks, and long stretches of sand (stay close to the surf, where the sand is more packed to avoid ankle injuries that can occur in too-soft sand).
As you get into a barefoot routine, start off with short shoeless stints. Walk around for about five minutes a day for a few weeks to strengthen the long-dormant muscles in your feet and ankles, and to thicken the skin on the bottom of your feet. Then, you can slowly increase the time you walk or run barefoot until you are up to daily dashes of about 10 to 15 minutes.
Tips to go shoeless and keep your feet safe
The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons report that among the millions of Americans to go barefoot this summer, thousands will suffer injuries such as cuts and puncture wounds. So, to avoid a trip to the ER, take note of their barefoot safety tips:
1. See a foot and ankle surgeon within 24 hours for a puncture wound. Hopefully, you won't be stepping on anything sharp while you are walking barefoot. But if you do, see a doctor straight away. Unsterile foreign objects can get imbedded deep inside the foot, causing damage to tendons and muscles, plus put you at risk for tissue or bone infections. Foot and ankle surgeons are experts in this area, so see one ASAP.
2. Apply sunscreen to the tops and bottoms of your feet. Your feet may be the furthest body part from the sun, but that doesn't mean they are safe from harmful rays. To prevent your tootsies from getting toasted, continually apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 with both UVB and UVA protection every few hours, and even more frequently when you are at the beach or the pool (for more information on UVA and UVB rays, read The truth about tanning).
3. Use common sense. Don't ditch your brain along with your shoes. Be extra-mindful when going barefoot, steering clear of potentially-hazardous areas like hiking trails (filled with sharp stones and roots) as well as murky rivers, lakes, and ponds which may conceal sharp objects underwater. Plus, if you are anywhere near a campfire or fireworks, get your shoes on. Each summer, thousands of people are injured by accidental burns to their feet.