What’s your relationship with your shoes? Does that sound like a strange question. Maybe you never think about the shoes you wear, maybe you’re totally obsessed with your shoe choices or maybe you’re somewhere in between. I’d say I’m on the super fussy side and want to make sure my shoes do me more good than harm. I don’t want my shoes to damage my feet. And I also think it’s a great topic to write about, so let’s get started!
The Benefits of Walking Without Shoes
You may have heard about the Zulu people in Africa who often walk without shoes. This goes back hundreds of years to their ancestral training. It turns out they have some of the healthiest feet in the world. A 2007 study compared the feet of Zulu, European, and Sotho peoples (a Bantu community also in southern Africa). From looking at their bone structures, scientists found the Zulu had the healthiest feet and the Europeans, who wear shoes, had the least healthy feet.
Does that mean our shoes may be doing us more harm than good? For sure shoes influence our gait and the way we walk.
Here’s one opinion from an article in New York Magazine written by Adam Sternbergh.
“Shoes are bad. I don’t just mean stiletto heels, or cowboy boots, or tottering espadrilles, or any of the other fairly obvious foot-torture devices into which we jam our feet. I mean all shoes. Shoes hurt your feet. They change how you walk. In fact, your feet—your poor, tender, abused, ignored, maligned, misunderstood feet—are getting trounced in a war that’s been raging for roughly a thousand years: the battle of shoes versus feet.”
Of course there are differing opinions.
Others insist our feet were not designed to walk on hard, flat surfaces.
Feet Change as You Age
Anatomically, your feet have hundreds of small muscles and bones. They have formed to carry you while barefoot.
You’ve likely noticed that as you age your feet change. After all, our whole body changes so why not our feet, right?
Turns out your feet do not stay the same size and shape. Here’s a fun fact: 60% of people have two totally different-sized feet. So it can be easy to make the mistake of buying the same size shoes each year.
Yet eventually if you do this, you’ll end up buying the wrong size and shape shoes. This also makes walking, running, and balancing a challenge.
- Need help with pain you’re experiencing when you run or walk? It could be your gait. Let’s talk and find a solution!
There are all kinds of ways our feet might change. People develop flat feet, reduced tendon elasticity, or circulatory problems. These problems make balancing significantly more difficult.
Our feet may also develop issues like hammer toe, arthritis, nail thickening, reduced cushioning, or skin changes.
What’s So Special About Going Barefoot?
Maybe it’s just me, but I love taking my shoes off. I never wear shoes in my house, and I look for opportunities to go barefoot.
I like my feet to breathe!
Walking barefoot stretches the tendons and muscles in your feet. This improves your posture, balance, and foot strength. This also reduces pain and the chances of developing issues like plantar fasciitis, bunions, and hammer toe.
Walking barefoot allows your feet to breathe. It helps prevent fungus growth and improves blood circulation.
Sometimes, you do need a shoe!
I think of shoes as protection. Yet while staying protected, I also want to do no harm to my feet. It helps, then, to understand more about shoes.
How Are Shoes Constructed?
Shoes have two parts. There’s a top part, where your foot fits in. There’s the bottom part you walk on.
The top part consists of the toe box, the vamp (where the laces are), and the counter (the heel). The bottom part is known as the shoe last. The shoe last is divided into four parts: the insole, shank, midsole, and outsole.
When choosing a shoe, you have to consider YOUR feet. This may sound simple, but so many times we are swayed by style, or fads, or what salespeople tell us. You know your feet best!
How to Shop for Shoes
You don’t want your shoes to damage your feet! Here are some tips and tricks to help you pick out the best pair next time you go shopping for shoes:
1. Trace your feet on a sheet of paper and take it to the store. When you find a shoe you’d like to try on, put the shoe on top of your feet tracings. If any part of your foot shows while the shoe is on top of it, don’t even bother trying it on.
2. Wear the same socks that you’d normally wear in these shoes to the store. Stand and walk around in the shoes while in the store. Be sure to try walking on different surfaces and test the tread of the shoes.
3. Shop for shoes in the afternoon. Your foot usually expands during the day, so the afternoon is a good time to get measured for width. Have someone in the store measure your feet each time you shop.
4. Buy shoes that give your toes a half inch of space to wiggle around. And always shop for your larger foot, opting for comfort over style.
Final Thoughts on Whether Shoes Damage Feet
I’m of the opinion the less shoe the better. I’ve been wearing as minimal a shoe as I can for years now. I always figured if I took great care of my feet they’d support me over the years in my active and healthy lifestyle. So far, so good!
Investing my time and attention to my foot care and investing in good shoes pays off. Don’t forget though, when you get the chance, take your shoes and socks off and go barefoot.
If you feel stuck and need additional support to adopt a new healthy habit or routine, consider working with me. We can partner up in setting goals, drawing on your skills and strengths, and implementing strategies to help you find your way to lasting healthy success.
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For over 15 years, Shelli has been a freelance writer and wellness habit coach on Joyinmovement. She writes about brain fitness, creating a healthy lifestyle, traveling the world, and making positive habits stick. Stop procrastinating! Take action, join her free newsletter.