By Alisha Di Masi, MS, OTR/L

We are coming into a fantastic time of year to ditch your shoes and start reaping the benefits of being barefoot. Adults and children of all ages can benefit greatly in body and mind by going barefoot.

Our feet are designed to be a strong foundation for the movement of our entire body. You don’t need a special piece of exercise equipment to strengthen the 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments (not to mention the 33 joints).  When you are barefoot, these muscles get exactly the exercise they need. You can think of a typical shoe like a cast, restricting movement and sensory input. Without shoes, the surface we walk on is the equipment and each step increases blood circulation and feedback as the muscles move and grow stronger.

From the ground up

The positive impact of being barefoot is not isolated to our feet. Allowing our feet and ankles to go through their full range of motion have implications for the way the rest of the body moves.  For example, when there is not an inch or more of heel on the bottom of our shoes, our calf can fully stretch to reach toward the ground with each step. This changes the way our knees, hips, and back are aligned. Think of it as a “knee bone connected to the hip bone” phenomenon.

Can being mindful start in our feet?

I wouldn’t be an occupational therapist if I didn’t mention the sensory benefits of being barefoot. Have you ever noticed some children (and adults) go out of their way to step on a pine cone? We are constantly seeking feedback about the world around us. And the feedback we receive from our feet when we are barefoot can mean our brain starts paying closer attention to what’s happening on the ground and around us. We may notice improved balance (fewer falls), faster reaction time, and a greater ease staying present.

No Shoes??

We absolutely need to wear shoes sometimes. And if these benefits sound exciting to you, start looking for shoes that are “barefoot”. You would look for a:
-Thin and flexible sole. The hallmark of a barefoot shoe is that you can curl it into a ball.
-Wide toe box.  Look for a shoe with ample space for toes to spread (bye bye bunions!).
-Totally flat. Barefoot shoes do not have any heel. They are the same thickness at the heel as the toe space.  This is referred to as zero drop.
-Secured to foot. Barefoot shoes don’t require your feet to grip them to stay on. Sorry flip flops, you are sitting this one out.

Start slowly

Before you jump out of your shoes and onto the barefoot shoe train remember: if your shoes are a cast you have been wearing for many decades, you want to enter your barefoot journey slowly. Build up your muscles with intention. Just like a bicep curl, you might not feel the impact until the next day. Maybe start with five minutes a day. Or maybe start going barefoot indoors if you never have. It is a marathon not a sprint (and definitely don’t start by running a marathon barefoot!). You can work this change slowly into a routine that fits your lifestyle.

Alisha DiMasi is an occupational therapist supporting families using sensory informed parent coaching and offering consultations for life’s changes. She lives in New Hampshire, is a member of the Hillsborough County, NH HMN Chapter and can be reached at