Running has some major benefits for our health. One thing most runners don’t know, however, is the benefits offered by barefoot running.
First, let’s discuss the benefits of running. Running is a great exercise that can change the way you live and help increase your fitness level. Not only does it help you to stay fit, it can also lift your mood.
Major benefits of running may include the following:
- improved mental health. Running produces happy hormones and makes the chances of developing depression and anxiety less likely.
- reduces asthma attacks. Running strengthens the lungs and bronchi, lessening the chances of asthma attacks.
- helps maintain blood pressure. Running expands and contract the arteries, preventing high blood pressure.
- boosts immune system.
- burns calories and trims the waistline.
- boosts strength.
- increases bone density.
- helps maintain blood sugar levels.
- improves joint strength and stability.
These benefits are just few of the known advantages of making running a regular habit. However, the new trend of barefoot running has produced even more benefits.
Barefoot Running: The Basics
Barefoot running has become very popular lately. It is employed by trainers as well as coaches in their trainings. Going barefoot is also practiced in yoga, gymnastics, several dances and Tai Chi among other sports and martial arts.
Experts have suggested that going barefoot is natural for human beings since most of us started walking barefoot as children. Going barefoot helps improve the health of our feet. In fact, our ancestors were accustomed to walking barefoot but we have since adapted to wearing shoes.
Benefits of Barefoot Running
Dr. Daniel Lieberman from Harvard University said that runners wearing shoes tend to land on their heels, overusing the built in padding in their shoes. When this happens, a massive jolt force impacts the ankles, knee, hips and the spine. This is even truer when runners use wrong or badly built shoes.
The benefits of barefoot running include:
#1. Decreased Impact
Barefoot running decreases impact in the muscles and joints. When walking or running barefoot, people tend to walk lighter and to land on the balls of the feet instead of the heels. Landing on the heels and midfoot allows the forefoot to act as a natural impact absorber. The midfoot and heel landing is also closer to the body’s center and balance.
#2. Heal Injuries
Running barefoot is said to help heal existing injuries. Barefoot running has been know to help people run again after conditions of weak ankles, shin sprints, ACL. Those who have had knee surgeries have also tried running barefoot after. But of course, barefoot running as a treatment needs careful planning and simple routines until your body becomes accustomed to the practice. Doctors may need to provide you with assistance at first, especially if you’ve undergone delicate treatment.
#3. Improves muscle tone
Running barefoot is said to tone the legs and help shape the abs. Running barefoot forces the legs to support the body instead of the shoes doing all the work. Feet and calves will also have symmetrical strength.
#4. Improved balance
Barefoot running enthusiasts reported better balance during their practice. The probable reason being, when you’re barefoot you tend to feel the ground better which helps the brain handle falls and obstacles on your trail. Since the feet contain more nerve endings than any other part of the body, it may help the brain stay awake and attuned to every changing sensation. This helps you keep balance better and will continue to improve all throughout your barefoot running career.
#5. Stronger feet
Barefoot running can help you achieve stronger feet, straightened out toes, notable arches and less aching after a day spent on your feet. Once you have stronger feet, you may start to last longer when standing during the day and you might find your new exercise routine reduces all the past damage caused by wearing the wrong shoes.
#6. Meditative benefits
Going barefoot connects you to the ground and lets you become more aware of your surroundings. This takes your mind off of your problems. It keeps you from thinking of the troubles in the past and help you focus on the trail and obstacles ahead.
#7. Improved happiness
According to studies, barefoot running and walking helps in maintaining blood pressure. It also controls cortisol levels or stress hormones. Some who have tried this report having overcome cases of anxiety and depression. This isn’t just due to going barefoot, but by running in general.
#8. Good posture
Running barefoot is said to help shape the core muscles of the body and strengthen the legs and feet. This helps in getting you to stand taller and keep your spine straight. Good posture helps the body regulate the digestive and nervous systems to improve health.
#9. Improves blood circulation
Barefoot running may help reduce varicose veins. Varicose veins can be caused by improper blood flow. When the feet are exercised, blood circulation may improve. When blood flow and circulation is improved, there is a smaller chance of developing varicose veins, temperature is regulated and body’s healing is hastened.
#10. Helps you socialize
Barefoot running has lots of followers. It has a growing “cult”. You can either join these people or start your own group of barefoot running enthusiasts. This will help you meet people, improve your social skills and grow your social circles, all while you get fit.
How to start barefoot running
Experts advise to start simple; jumping straight into barefoot running may have negative affects on your feet which as so used to wearing shoes. Here are some steps you should follow:
- Replace your running shoes with thinner soles (or even reinforced socks) akin to barefoot running.
- Start with simple activities like walking and slow jogging. Work your way up to running.
- Run with these shoes for short distances at first. Then start increasing your distance.
- Pay attention to the trail and pay attention to your body form.
- After you are very comfortable with the minimal shoe running, remove it.
- Run barefoot on a safe trail first, i.e. no obstacles to traverse.
- Run shorter distances while you’re still getting used to being barefoot.
- Start increasing the distance.
- Try out other trails with more obstacles.
Barefoot Running Cautions
Running barefoot can cause probelms when you do it too fast or incorrectly. So here are some things to remember when going for a barefoot run:
- Wear minimalist shoes when on an unfamiliar trail or when the weather’s cold or too hot.
- When running barefoot, scan the path ahead for any possible debris that may hurt your feet.
- Be careful when starting. Look out for possible conditions of calf strain and Achilles Tendinitis when starting.
- Plantar pain is very possible. Make sure you do the necessary prepping before going on a full blown run.
- Blisters are also one major problem. This can happen when one is just starting barefoot running. After a few tries, calluses will start to form on the soles of the feet, cushioning your step. Running can become more comfortable, although these calluses can’t protect you from debris.
- Be prepared for some weird stares. Although it is fast becoming popular, barefoot running is still associated by many to be a kind of “ancient” practice. Yes, you may look like a caveman to some, but who cares?
Barefoot running can be a good way to improve your health, especially if you are a running enthusiast already. However, necessary cautions need to be taken when first starting. Those who have had conditions relating to mobility may need a doctor’s advice before they start.
If you are unsure, start with minimalist shoes or reinforced socks. Famous brands already have their own lines of shoes for semi-barefoot movement. Nike Free, Tera Plana and Vibram Fivefingers are just a few staple brands in semi-barefoot running.