Elderly and Barefoot–that’s how I plan to be

See, even Plato was rockin’ the barefoot look

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Erik is the Thoughtstylistâ„¢ in this house, but I’m going to step up on the Stylin’ Platform for a change. As regular readers know, Erik is into barefoot running. I barefoot walk, and am working my way into barefoot running.

Our neighborhood is full of long, steep staircases devoid of handrails. I go up and down these on my walks. When I’m in running shoes, I feel insecure on these staircases–I really watch my step, lest I end up sprawled on the bottom like an Aztec sacrifice. No matter what I do, I always feel like I’m about to pitch forward on my face.

Contrast that to doing the stairs barefoot. When I’m barefoot I feel completely safe. On the way down, my toes grab the edge of each stair, automatically. Going up, I’m high on the ball of my feet, and don’t worry about catching a toe and tripping.

This led me to realize, on a visceral level, that when you’re barefoot, you’re very surefooted. Your foot is conforming to the terrain, and the nerves in your foot are sending a constant flow of feedback to your brain. You walk more lightly–not more hesitantly, but with more awareness.

Surefootedness becomes more important to me now that I’m past 40 and staring down the gullet of my elder years. I also have older family members, and I’m sure most of you do. We all know that one of the biggest threat to the elderly are falls. And falls happen because as we get older, and less active, we lose coordination, strength, and balance.

My thoughtstyling, in a nutshell, was that older folks should spend more time barefoot. Being barefoot really wakes up your senses and trains you to be surefooted.

Of course it can be hard for elderly people to care for their feet, so they need to take time to build up callouses that will protect their feet from cuts. That process can happen in a shorter period time, with work, but it’s easier if we’ve been going barefoot all our life…or at least since our 40′s.

No one may agree with me, but I for one plan to be a barefooted elder. And I’m going to start leaning on my mother about it, too.

I was pleased to find my thoughstyling backed up in this book Erik bought recently. It’s called Barefoot Running, and has a special section on transitioning to barefoot for the elderly and less mobile. The author makes the same arguments that I am here, just somewhat more articulately. Overall it’s a really good book on the basic mechanics of barefooting, how to build up callouses, how to approach weather and different terrains, etc. It also has some not so valuable stuff on diet and stretching and spirituality, as if it’s trying to be a book about all things–but for the basic barefoot stuff, it’s great.

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17 Comments

  1. I actually like the spiritual part of the Barefoot Running book–will have to post about it! Essentially he makes the argument that barefootedness gives you a kind of spiritual “grounding”.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this stuff since I read the book “Born To Run” which talks about the Tarahumara Indians, who run barefoot and are arguably some of the best runners around.

    Also, I’ve been listening to the book “Earthing” which argues that we can better our health by connecting directly with the Earth.

    So, it was apt when I saw your blog post.

    Thanks,
    Mil

  3. ive always been a keen barefooter myself, somewhere in the dark depths of internet i was a member of the dirty sole society. since moved town ive had to shoe up a bit, i thought my new family were a bit “stiff” but soon realised…..people in my town blow their nose and spit on the foot paths quiet regularly, its discusting and to avoid stepping in snot you have to wear some protection, at home inside or at the beachside its off with the shoes.

  4. I am shoeless and braless, one of the crazy elders. I have been telling people for years that I am more surefooted when barefoot. I feel in tune and in touch with the earth. Actually, when I wear a shoe with an arch, I am less stable. So, since I do have to wear shoes some, I get ones with zero arch support. It annoys those who know better than I. My favorite house shoes are the cheap dollar store, terry scuffs, the next best thing to barefoot since they have a thin sole with no padding to amount to anything, absolutely no structure. It gets cold in the house in winter, so a bit of protection from the elements is necessary. I have been going barefoot at home all my life. I don’t trust sidewalks with shards of glass and spit. Since I have wood floors and no concrete underneath, just a basement and crawl space, the floors give way and hurt my back and all the joints less. Running barefoot was a favorite thing as a child. This post makes me happy, extremely happy.

    Like you, I feel as though I am going to pitch forward on high steps. I will have to try some barefoot. Thanks.

  5. This may be a silly question…but when you all are talking about going barefoot running, do you actually mean barefoot or are you talking about wearing those Vibram style shoes?

  6. I would love to spend more time barefeet. And before I tore some ligaments in my knee I was going to start barefoot running. That’s on hold for now! I keep telling myself I’m going to do it more, but I am very paranoid about stepping on something. I like to think when I have a yard of my own, I’ll be able to go barefoot. I also read recently that very young children should be left barefoot as long as possible, and from watching little ones it is clear they can walk much better without shoes.

  7. Sounds like a solid argument, and great for you Southern Californians. Up here in the Northwest, it just sounds cold and muddy! I’m going to stick with my muck boots for now, but I’ll give the barefooting a try this summer.

  8. I encourage my children to go barefoot where I know it’s safe; neighbours comment on them walking over the tarmac road without flinching!

    My son has ADD, and I was told once that the reason he struggled/struggles to sit still when cross legged on the floor is that the soles of his feet aren’t getting any feedback from the ground and it’s confusing his brain.

    My brother didn’t wear shoes at all for several years, even in the winter(in the UK)unless it was actually snowing. Once in a queue to withdraw money from a bank cashpoint machine a man mistook him for a beggar and handed him £10! He did return it, probably with an explanation as to why he chose to be barefoot…

  9. Oh, I thought you were writing of the retirement plan so many of us are looking forward to, but I see you’re talking about a voluntary movement.

    Won’t my feet stick to the ice floe?

  10. Funny, I am planning on being elderly, barefoot and pregnant, if the technology allows. I may have to settle for elderly barefoot and nekkid though.

    My advice is go slow, there are probably 1 injured person for every couple successful converts to barefoot running. But otherwise have fun. I think there is a balance somewhere between the two (barefoot vs heel strike) that will work for everyone.

  11. I can’t get enough of being barefoot. Yesterday while walking Matt mentioned my feet would soon be wet and why wasn’t I wearing my boots. I replied that my feet feel clunky and uncoordinated in those things now. I need to feel with my feet. Great post.

  12. Know there are people who hike the local trails barefoot. Sadly, while I used to be a barefooter, too many pieces of glass lodged in the soles of my feet (lived in NYC – not a place for barefootin’?), pushed me into shoes, and got used to it. Now,I’m drifting back. Moccasins are about the best compromise for me; protection from too hot asphalt, and some from sharp things that lay about (here in the desert even leaves have sharp enough edges to cut you!)
    Can definately climb steep trails when the toes can curl and dig in. Looking at knitting my shoes and giving them thin leather soles.

  13. I love being barefoot or having the option to wear my Vibram FiveFingers for protection. Good for you for making the transition! From the research that I’ve done, it’s super important to let your feet be free.

  14. I’m back from camping! Sorry for the delay in answering some of these comments:

    @Kim: I’m talking about being truly barefoot.

    @Parsimony: I’ll be right there with you.

    @Mil: I think there’s something to that, to being connected with the earth. It just feels right.

    A few general thoughts:

    –True I live in gentle weather, but the guy who wrote that book has advice on barefooting in all weather, snow, ice, whatever. It sounds basically like a process of working into it.

    I’ve run in rain and mud and really liked that. I remind myself that we did not come equipped with shoes. Actually, on one of the barefoot sites I read about a pair of sisters who hiked the Appalachian Trail in the snow barefoot. Now that’s tough.

    –I’m generally not concerned about what’s on the ground, with the exception of needles, which we don’t see around here anymore. I’m not afraid of spit or glass or rocks. My feet are tough, and they wash off.

    –I’m transitioning into using minimal footwear as much as possible: as of now I have some dance shoes, ballet slippers and moccasins. Like them all. Erik just bought a pair of $15 Chinese martial arts shoes. They’re light and flexible, but the sole is (to my eye) strangely rounded. Erik will have to report back on them.

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