Get Grounded

Health, July 10, 2018

Walking and running barefoot could have far more benefits than just strengthening our feet and improving running form.

I recommend walking or a gradual build of jogging with barefeet for a number of reasons.

 

1) It helps toughen the soles of the feet
2) Aids in developing efficient running technique (light feet, landing under hip, and eliminates over-striding) 
3) Strengthens the intrinsic (muscles that originate inside the foot) and extrinsic (muscles that originate in the leg with tendon attachments in the foot) muscles, ligaments, bones, and tendon attachments of the lower leg and feet 
4) Gives great variety in loading through the foot and leg which protects against future injury.
5) Is a great way to graduate a different loading pattern to get used to a lower drop shoe (going from a 12mm to 8mm, or 8mm to 4mm, and then to a zero drop) - this graduation will be different for every athlete depending on flexibility of the calf and achilles tendon, weight, past athletic history, and shoe wearing history. 
It's a good idea to start with grass or soft sand before moving towards soft suitable running tracks. I don't  endorse running barefoot on concrete due to the increased risk of stress fractures in the feet. The loading gradient is too steep. 

 

Feet strengthening exercises and desensitisation work is a good idea if you struggle with the idea of walking/jogging barefoot. My past article on this subject will give you some good pointers on this (https://everfit.co.nz/articles/strengthening-your-feet)

Apart from the reasons stated above their is growing evidence to suggest that walking on the ground without shoes is beneficial for general health. From a scientific point of view the earth has a mild negative charge, and over time our systems build up a positive charge. Having a direct contact with the earth (walking barefoot, swimming in a natural body of water) is thought to even out this charge mismatch returning the body to a neutral state. 
Dr. John Briffa (Specialist in Integrated Medicine, who graduated from University College London School of Medicine as a prize winning student, and completed a BSc (Hons) degree in Biomedical Sciences and Immunology) explains the science more deeply in this following statement.........

 

"During the normal processes of metabolism the body generates what are called ‘reactive oxygen species’ which are commonly referred to as ‘free radicals’. These compounds appear to be important, at least in part because they have the ability to attack and destroy unwanted things within the body including bacteria and viruses. However, too many free radicals are a bad thing, and have been implicated in chronic disease and well as the very process of aging. Free radicals are involved in the process known as inflammation, which is part of the healing process. However, low-grade inflammation throughout the body may lead to pain and other problems in the muscles and joints, and is also believed to be a key driving factor in many chronic diseases including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In short, we want free radicals, but not too many. Free radicals lack sparks of energy known as ‘electrons’. One way to quell them is to give them electrons, and these can be supplied by nutrients such as vitamins A, C and E, and plant substances known as ‘polyphenols’ (found in many herbs - sage, rosemary, thyme, and basil and flaxseed meal, dark chocolate, chestnuts, strawberries, and coffee). However, substances we eat and drink are not the only way to get electrons into the body: earthing does this too. If the body has a positive charge on it, earthing allows electrons to flow into the body where, in theory, they can neutralize overblown free radical and inflammatory damage. Carrying a positive charge may well affect the body in lots of different ways, which means that earthing may offer a range of wellbeing benefits."

So apparently implementing some barefoot work in your training plan can reduce inflammation, improve your sleep and energy, normalise your circadian rhythm (also reducing effects of jet lag), improve muscle recovery by relieving tension, and can help support adrenal health - check out my article on adrenal health on the platform (https://everfit.co.nz/articles/hpa-axis-dysfunction)

 

Many of the studies professing these claims are small and more research will need to be done to show more conclusive evidence. However I am buoyed by this conclusive statement in Chevalier, G et als paper Earthing : Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earths Surface Electrons (Jour Environmental Public Health 2012, Jan 12) 

"Emerging evidence shows that contact with the Earth - whether being outside barefoot or indoors connected to grounded conductive systems - may be a simple, natural, and yet profoundly effective environmental strategy against chronic stress, ANS dysfunction, inflammation, pain, poor sleep, disturbed HRV, hypercoagulable blood, and many common health disorders, including cardiovascular disease. The research done to date supports the concept that grounding or earthing the human body may be an essential element in the health equation along with sunshine, clean air and water, nutritious food, and physical activity."

 

I love the idea of getting out in touch with nature, swimming in the ocean, sitting in a cold stream, and walking barefoot on the earth makes sense to help reconnect us with nature as a nourishing force for our mind, body, and soul. Even if you don't buy that you are gaining negatively charged electrons to help balance out your building positive charge -  the foot strength/stability work, and getting comfortable with a little discomfort is hugely beneficial. I am now doing one session of soft sand jogging in my week and throwing in as much barefoot walking as possible with the family. Simple wellness habits resonate with me, and we all need to be a little more grounded. Get in touch if you want help applying daily habits that will enhance your wellness.