When was the last time you kicked off your shoes and went for a walk? Are you afraid of hurting your feet or of suffering the social stigma of being spotted without shoes? L. Daniel Howell, Ph.D., an associate professor of biology at Liberty University, examines our illogical dependency on footgear and makes a strong case for shoe-shunning in “The Barefoot Book: 50 Great Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes.” Here's an excerpt:
Introduction: Why bare your feet?
“Footgear is the greatest enemy of the human foot.”
— Dr. Samual Shulman
“There’s no such thing as a sensible shoe.”
— Dr. William Rossi
These quotes encapsulate the basic premise of this book — that feet and shoes are at odds with each other. The war between the foot and the shoe might be of little consequence if wearing shoes were optional in our society, but unfortunately living a hassle-free shoeless life is nearly impossible in the United States and many other developed nations. Most people are surprised to discover that there are no laws or health codes that prevent people from going barefoot and this revelation alone is enough to get some people out of their shoes, but not most. Why is it so hard for most people to leave their shoes at home? The likely answer is that going around barefoot violates a cultural code of conduct.
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Although I discuss the negative effects of simply wearing a shoe on the foot, my chief aim in writing this book is to expose the hazards of walking (and running) in shoes and the benefits of walking (and running) barefoot. The key to good foot health is barefoot locomotion — moving along the ground on your bare feet. We tend to kick off our shoes only while dining, reading, or watching entertainment … all sitting activities. Hardly ever do we walk (let alone run or hike) without shoes on our feet. Encased within shoes whenever we exercise, our feet miss out on the action; while the rest of our body gets a workout, our feet are unable to flex, twist, grasp, feel, or breathe. The stench of the sneaker and the itch of athlete’s foot are just two ways our feet are trying to tell us something is wrong. Modern research supports their often ignored cries, however, and the evidence is clear: Barefoot walking is essential to healthy feet and the constant use of shoes is harming us.
Shoes have become an unhealthy cultural addiction in the United States. The typical American woman owns nineteen pairs of shoes. Although men typically own fewer pairs of shoes than women, they usually wear them more often (especially the closed-toe variety). To demonstrate this obsession with shoes for yourself all you have to do is step outside and a spend a few minutes watching people go about their business. How many were barefoot? In most U.S. towns, you wouldn’t see a single barefoot person even if you watched people all day — even in the middle of August.
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Our obsession with shoes is baffling. Everyone knows that shoes are uncomfortable (think of how good it feels to take them off at the end of the day), and many people suspect that shoes are causing some of their foot woes. So why does everyone wear shoes all the time? How did the “shoe rule” get fixed into our cultural psyche? One explanation is a widespread belief in nonexistent laws and health codes — mythical statutes that have no basis in fact but dominate the beliefs and behavior of almost everyone. But there is something else. Many times while walking barefoot I’ve met people who envy me; they say, “I’d love to go barefoot, but I can’t.” Why not, I say? All you have to do is … take off your shoes.” But for many people there seems to be an almost insurmountable barrier to doing that. That barrier no doubt stems from our need to fit in — to look and act like others around us. However, when everyone is engaged in unhealthy behavior, it is okay to buck the system and lead by example. I hope that the information provided in this book — including an entire chapter on tips for getting started — can help those who want to spend more time barefoot overcome that social barrier.
My goal in writing this book is not to get everyone to burn their shoes and go forever barefoot (although I personally think that might create a rather pleasant society). Rather, for the health of our feet, I would like to see barefootedness at least exist in our culture. On any given day, if you could step outside and see not 1 in 10,000 but 1 in 1,000 (or even 1 in 100) people going about barefoot, then we as a society would have healthier feet. I think we would benefit in other ways, too — emotionally, psychologically, even with respect to environmental awareness and cleanliness. I would love to see us treat our feet the way we treat our hands: We wear gloves when obvious hazards are present like harsh chemicals or extreme cold and otherwise leave them bare. If we took the same approach with our feet, our feet and bodies would benefit tremendously.
Our feet are far more durable and adaptable than we give them credit for and shoes often do more harm than good, especially when worn nearly continuously and for exercise (walking, running, and hiking). Excessive shoe wearing has had a negative impact on our health and well-being, but that impact can be reduced — sometimes even reversed — by simply kicking off our shoes and taking a walk. So, I invite you to read the rest of this book, and then throw off whatever is smothering your feet and take a stroll!
Excerpted with permission from "The Barefoot Book: 50 Great Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes" by L. Daniel Howell, Ph.D. (Hunter House Publishers, 2010)
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