A healthy and often overlooked practice you can take advantage of during this time is the plentiful opportunities to kick off your shoes and socks and spend some time barefoot. The foot and ankle form a complex system that contains more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments throughout it. Spending years in modern footwear that has bulky soles and narrow toe boxes have left a majority of the population unable to access many of these muscles. Here’s a test: take off your shoes and socks and stand barefoot. Is there a gap between your big toe and the rest of your toes when completely relaxed? Can you lift your big toe without lifting the other toes? Can you move your pinky toe by itself? Next, sit on a chair and extend your foot out in front of you and try to make a circle with your foot. Does the circle feel smooth? Is it easier to go one way than the other? If you noticed you can’t do some of these things or they feel uncomfortable or shaky, it’s likely you’re ability to use some of the muscles of the foot and ankle have been compromised.
What does this mean and is it important to your health? It’s difficult to give a definitive answer. Many individuals may never encounter foot problems in their life, some may run into the occasional bout of plantar fasciitis, and others may experience significant knee, hip, and low-back problems that stem from (often undiagnosed) foot dysfunction. My thinking is being aware of your body and how it is built to function is always a good thing. So, one of the best things you can do is to improve this is spend more time barefoot! Doing so will help your brain to become more familiar with all the musculature of the foot and ankle and, it’s likely, you will quickly regain many of their functions. It’s possible that regaining these functions may also help issues in the knee, hip and low-back.
Another benefit to being barefoot is called grounding. Grounding occurs when the Earth transfers electrons into the body. This is a fairly new idea to the science of well-being (well-established by hippies though!), but many individuals find it to have a therapeutic effect. Some research even shows improvements in sleep and reduced perceptions of pain! So get outside, spend some time barefoot, and experiment with lots of different surfaces and textures (one of my favorite post-run activities is walking barefoot on big rocks at the edges of Lake Michigan), you might find it oddly comforting.
Fitness Professional, Matt Rucinski
Interested in learning more? Contact Matt or one of our other great Personal Trainers to figure out how to get more physical activity and/or exercise into your lifestyle.