Barefootin’s just plain good for you

Published 12:28 am Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The sun is shining and blooms are popping out on the azalea bushes. When I was a kid, my brothers, sisters and I waited for with much anticipation for this time of year.

Warmer days meant one important thing to us — it was time to shed the shoes we wore all winter. I don’t know why it was such a big deal to be able to go barefoot, but it was a huge deal to us.

As soon as we thought we might have the slimmest chance of getting the answer we wanted, we asked Mother for permission to, as we called it, “go barefooted.” Of course, we had a tendency to rush things by asking too soon. For instance, if it looked like spring but the temperatures still felt like January, all our begging was wasted and sure to get a “no.”

One year we even wrote a song in hopes of persuading her. I remember the lyrics.

“Mother may we go barefooted.”

We sung those five words repeatedly until we could tell by the look on her face and the tone of her voice that it was in our best interest to hush. No amount of singing was going to get us out of our shoes.

When, at last, Mother determined the timing was right, and I never understood her criteria for that decision, the shoes came off. It was great to sink our toes in the new soft grass.

Soon enough, the plants we called “stickers” would make a walk through the yard without shoes a game of dodging sticker patches. But for now they were only bunches of tiny yellow flowers instead of patches filled with devilish brown spikes lying in wait for bare feet. So in spring, we ran around with abandon, feeling the joy of having a sticker-free yard.

I thought about those days this morning and I wondered what it was that made us desire the experience of walking barefoot on the earth. Little did I know there is a name for the experience, and scientific evidence that it’s good for us.

Low and behold, walking without shoes is “earthing, once thought of as just something a bunch of kooky folks decided was a thing. (Earthing is not to be confused with Barefootin’, a song sung by Robert Parker about dancing barefoot).

It turns out, earthing is a researched practice with a number of health advantages, including increasing antioxidants, reducing inflammation and improving sleep.

There was a review published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health that looked at studies highlighting how drawing electrons from the earth improves health. Yet another study found that earthing changed the electrical activity in the brain, as measured by electroencephalograms.

Other studies found that earthing benefited skin conductivity, moderated heart rate variability, improved glucose regulation, reduced stress and boosted immunity.

Another benefit of walking barefoot is apparently greater balance. By feeling the ground, people wake up the vestibular system (balance system) of the brain, stimulating new neural connections and remapping their minds for greater balance.

They say walking barefoot improves strength in the legs and gives folks healthier feet. It also improves circulation in the feet and legs, helps with better posture and may help decrease blood pressure.

Why leaving off the shoes is such a big deal that there are books about it. In one titled Barefoot Walking, the author tells readers that going shoeless has anti-aging benefits. Another book, Earthing, explains that when walking barefoot people experience the flow of the earth’s electric energy connecting to their physical bodies, which promotes healing and creates a deep sense of well-being.

Well who knew that a bunch of kids singing about going barefooted were onto something so important to health and well-being. All we knew was walking without shoes made us feel happy and free.

So, how about it. The sun is shining; the air is warm. Let’s do some earthing before the stickers show up.