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Running Shoes…The Naked Truth

By Sherry Brooks
April 8, 2010
File under: Fitness, Natural Remedies


On any given day in Manhattan you will find people walking.  Walking for blocks, walking for MILES, uptown, across town, twenty-two blocks to meet for lunch and three miles roundtrip to catch the latest Tim Burton film.

Wearing button down shirts, cashmere sweaters, suits, skirts and chic coats – what are they walking in?  Regular footwear, often without socks.  Not Sneakers, not walking shoes.  Not a good idea?

As it turns out, we may not doing ourselves any favors by wearing athletic footwear and a growing body of research suggests that going barefoot may actually be better. For most of history humans have run in either lightweight shoes or barefoot.

According to Daniel Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, “People have been running barefoot for millions of years and it has only been since 1972 that people have been wearing shoes with thick, synthetic heels.”

Research published in Nature, the international weekly journal of science, compared the impact generated by runners with running shoes versus barefoot. Daniel Lieberman and colleagues studied the biomechanics of shod versus barefoot runners and found that the way barefoot runners typically land is more comfortable and may help avoid repetitive impact stress injuries.¹

Many studies suggest that modern running shoes may in fact increase the risk of injury and that runners wearing cheap running shoes have fewer injuries than those with more expensive trainers. According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, athletic footwear has been associated with frequent injury thought to result from repetitive impact. The researchers found that the more expensive athletic shoes claim cushioning impact, yet account for 123% greater injury frequency than the cheapest ones.²

As more research suggests that naked feet are preferable to high tech trainers, minimalist footwear like Nike Free and FiveFingers are gaining popularity. Nike Free footwear is designed to strengthen the muscles in the foot by providing less constriction. Vibram, a leading manufacturer of high performance rubber soles, has developed a line of ‘barefoot performance footwear’ known simply as FiveFingers®

vibram-five-fingers.jpgVibram Five Fingers® looks more like a ‘foot glove’ than a running shoe and represents a radical departure from the look and function of traditional shoes.

So, the next time you get a moment to take an invigorating walk or jog, don’t reach for those running shoes. If you decide to take off those shoes and go “au natural” or try out the new biomechanical wonders, break into the shoe gradually to prevent muscle cramps or other discomforts. A brisk walk or light jog outdoors can be one of the best forms of exercise. It is health supporting, cost effective and energy saving because the sidewalk is your treadmill.

Sherry Brooks is a healthy, happy and trim “Frugalista” living the lean and green life near Malibu in sunny southern California.

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  1. Lieberman, Daniel E., Venkadesan, Madhusudhan, Werbel, William A., Daoud, Adam I., D’Andrea, Susan, Davis, Irene S., Ojiambo Mang’Eni, Robert, Pitsiladis, Yannis. Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners Nature 463, 531-535; 2010
  2. S Robbins, E Waked. Hazard of deceptive advertising of athletic footwear.
    Br J Sports Med 1997;31:299-303
Comments (5) Email Link
  1. Betsy
    April 10, 2010 11pm UTC

    Vibram FiveFingers shoes are made from kangaroo. How is that even remotely cool?

  2. Marie Oser
    April 11, 2010 1pm UTC

    Thank you for your comments, Betsy.

    Sherry is reporting on very interesting new research that takes issue with the type of footwear and running shoes that have been the gold standard since the 1970′s.

    Personally, I am vegan and avoid all animal products, including leather. If you believe that making products from the hide of kangaroos, as opposed to cow hide (guessing that 99% of shoes are derived from cows) is sacrosanct, you should make your feelings known to the manufacturer, as you have here.

  3. Malcolm
    April 12, 2010 9am UTC

    I just got a pair of the FiveFingers KSOs, and so far so good. First of all, not all pairs of the FiveFinger shoes use kangaroo leather…I believe the only pair that does is the KSO Treks.
    AS far as the performance, after the first month in, they’ve been great. I have had serious knee issues, so part of my interest in the KSOs is to reduce some pressure on my knees. I have been easing into them slowly and they have forced me to run as though I were barefoot with a softer landing…more on the balls of your feet. I end up taking shorter strides, but it feels nice. It definitely uses different muscles…which is nice, but I haven’t been able to totally hit my stride in them and reach that ‘runner’s high’ yet. Soon….

  4. John and Gisela
    April 12, 2010 11pm UTC

    Your article was written so well . We wish all the young people would through their very expensive athletic shoes away and follow your suggestion, it would be the greatest.

  5. Leslie
    April 22, 2010 9am UTC

    Its funny that the advertising banner at the top of the screen is for a New Balance running shoe.

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An alternative approach to health, wellness and disease prevention. Marie Oser and her team of bloggers bring you creative natural solutions to issues affecting our health and wellbeing.

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