Is there a Shoespiracy?

Shoes could be much better for our health. Our bare feet seem to be perfectly designed but can a shoe protect our foot without destroying the benefits of being barefoot?

Is there a Shoespiracy?
Photo by Adam Jang / Unsplash

Where did I get this word Shoespiracy from? Did I just make it up? No it is the name of a documentary that I watched on YouTube. It's a marketing video produced by a shoe manufacturer Vivo Barefoot. Vivo barefoot are just one of a whole host of modern shoe manufacturers taking advantage of a new found interest in our bodies natural gait.

The movement itself seems to have begun with a publication of an article in the scientific journal, Nature, title Born to Run. The article compared the features of humans with those of running animals and walking animals and determined that we had a number of markers indicating a design tailored towards endurance running. This was followed by the publication of a hugely popular book by Christopher McDougall in 2009 also entitled Born to Run. The book features an indigenous Mexican tribe called the Tarahumara who all enjoy running (including the women) and are capable of running in some cases 200 miles across the wild Mexican canyons, all whilst wearing minimal footwear. Furthermore they do not suffer running injuries the same way we scientifically enlightened Westerners do. Our incident rate of running injuries has remained nearly constant despite fifty years of research and development in sports science and footwear.

The Tarahumara wear a style of sandal called a Huarache.

The sandal and the new barefoot shoes have five distinct features:

  • No motion control meaning a thin and flexible sole in every direction
  • No cushioning
  • Zero drop meaning the heels and toes are level
  • No arch support
  • No mid sole

In 2005 already, Nike had produced what it thought was a barefoot shoe in order to try to reduce running injuries sustained by professional athletes. Their product featured a thin mesh covering and a flexible sole, but the sole was still thick and over-supportive.

In 2009 Vibram produced the Five Finger shoes originally for yachtsmen, but they found surprising success among the running community. This coincided with the publication of the Born to Run book and since then the barefoot shoe market has been growing year on year finding enthusiasts even outside of runners.

Eyesighter, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The huarache sandal itself can actually be made very easily at home as you only require a sole and a long shoe-lace. There are several videos online showing how to make them, specifically, how to cut the sole to the correct shape and size, how to locate the toe hole and how to tie the laces.

Try it yourself with an old pair of flip-flops or sandals, or you can purchase a DIY kit from the likes of Xeroshoes in the US or Tarashoes in Germany. I've not found any other DIY kits but you can also purchase the parts from a DIY or craft store.

What you will see from every barefoot shoe store is a demonstration of how flexible the shoe is, typically demonstrated by rolling the shoe up, and secondly a mention of how thin the sole is. Sometimes varying thicknesses of sole are available for both beginners and veterans.  The thinner and more flexible the sole, the more of the ground you will be able to feel. This helps with balance and stimulates the brain. It also helps to adjust your gait so that your walking style becomes more aligned with your body's natural kinematics.

Evolution vs Design

Many of the videos about barefoot shoes and the perfect design of the foot falsely attribute the perfection to evolution. The problem here is that our supposed nearest relatives have feet and hands that are perfect for climbing, walking and eating and humans have feet and hands that are perfect for bipedal walking, running and delicate manipulations. In order to get from perfect for one job to perfect for another job there is a massive gap of imperfection between the two. In Darwin's world the imperfect gets eliminated via survival of the fittest. Another problem, common to all evolutionary theories, is the lack of intermediary fossils.

Rather, it is better to believe that the foot is a great design. It is designed with many nerve endings for balance. It is designed for endurance and agility, at least in a bipedal fashion. We cannot match the agility of chimpanzees, or the strength of gorillas, yet they are perfect for our needs.

Conversely it seems the design of shoes although having evolved over the last 50-100 years are not yet perfectly formed for the health of our bodies and our feet. The heel is the first and biggest point of contention. All modern shoes (except barefoot shoes) feature a raised heel; even the thinnest sandals have a slight heel raise.

Pair of heels kept against plain brown background
Photo by Atikah Akhtar / Unsplash

The Heel

The explanation given for the heel is that men wore boots with a heel to facilitate riding horses and keeping their feet in the stirrups more easily. The fashion flowed down into business shoes. During the industrial revolution and up to the Second World War, sport and exercise was not really a thing, so the daily wearing of shoes of this style did not create a massive problem. It was only when men, and to some extent women, started to do sport on a regular basis did the problem reveal itself. People were getting injuries and it came down to their footwear. Each year some 49% of runners experience injury, often a recurrence.

As any good capitalist would do, instead of solving the problem by removing the cause, the problem (at the time) was seemingly solved by adding cushioning to the shoes, and so the sports shoe industry was born.

Shoe manufacturers started adding more and more support for our feet, we started getting arch support and memory foam inserts, air cushions and all manner of other cushions. And the rate of sports injuries did not decrease! All this support did the opposite of what it was supposed to do, it actually served to change the way we walk. The slight heel raise changes the angle of the pelvis and the alignment of the knees and back. The cushioning causes us to strike the ground harder and not softer because we don't recognise the impact so easily.

All the while our feet got further away from the ground that they were made for. Getting back to our origins where our feet are in contact with the earth seemed like the solution we had been longing for. At least anyone who desires to be in good health and free from injury.

Grounding or Earthing

These barefoot shoes are supposed to mimic the feeling of going barefoot, without the stigma attached to actually being barefoot, and without the inconvenience of daily foot washing. The name, however, barefoot shoes, whilst claiming to put our feet in close contact with the Earth, does not fully recognise all the benefits associated with being barefoot.

There is another benefit from being barefoot, namely grounding, or earthing. Grounding is the term for the electrical connection to the earth (also called earthing). Every building in the developed world will have an earth whether we know it or not. It is nothing more than a copper spike sunk into the earth outside. A copper cable is run from the spike throughout the building connecting to every electrical outlet.

Have you ever received an electric shock when you've touched certain objects: door handles, hand rails, kitchen sink for example? This is due to a build up of static electricity in your body. Lightning is caused by static electricity build-up in the clouds that is released in explosive fashion as the electricity is discharged to the Earth. And the shock that you feel is a tiny discharge of the static from your body as you touch something that has a connection to the Earth.

When working with electronic circuits, it has long been recognised that static electricity on the human body can actually cause damage to delicate silicon circuits. Therefore engineers and technicians working with electronic circuits have worn anti-static discharge (ASD) wrist bands or footwear to protect the circuits. What did not happen at this time was a contemplation by biologists about whether static electricity could also damage the delicate circuitry inside the human body.

The human body is an electrical system. The brain functions because of electrical signals between synapses. Every nerve is a conductor that transmits electrical signals. Could it be that static electricity is also bad for our health?

This time again an independent documentary reveals the health benefits experienced by multiple people when they allow their feet to make contact with the Earth.

When our body contacts the Earth, grass or soil primarily, then the charge on our body is neutralized. As long as we walk around in plastic buildings and in plastic shoes then our bodies build up static charge which is only released when we touch the Earth.

This part of the article could easily focus on a bed conspiracy, or a flooring conspiracy, seeing as how we now sleep raised off the floor and how modern flooring is no longer made from natural fibres and has lost the conductivity.

I don't believe these are actual conspiracies, likewise with the shoespiracy. It is just humans creating a business to solve a problem without properly understanding the cause of the problem. Or solving one problem whilst inadvertently creating another problem. And the human body is very resilient, it can cope with a lot of stress and discomfort and pain, and it can heal a lot of sicknesses and diseases.

Some people, as demonstrated in the above video, have a tendency toward sickness. Thankfully that is not me, but I am inspired by the stories of people who have taken their health into their own hands and found a solution to their sicknesses beyond the realms of modern medicine. We can all learn something from them and benefit from what they have discovered.

These people have found that their bodies healed themselves once they allowed their bodies to neutralize the electrical charge on a regular basis. This can be done in various ways:

  • Walking barefoot (truly barefoot)
  • Lying on the ground (preferably grass or sand) during your lunchbreak
  • Using a grounding conductor

Barefoot shoes

Walking barefoot is the connection to this article. The barefoot shoe movement has created shoes, made a sole from plastic, and then called them barefoot. In this case you get the flexibility and the sensation of being barefoot but you have lost the grounding connection to the Earth. If you have leather soled shoes then they may conduct electricity but it depends on how they are treated with regards their durability. I bought a pair of shoes from a company called Groundies, it's a great name for a grounding shoe, except it doesn't actually perform any grounding it is just a style of barefoot shoe with the thin sole and zero drop. I returned the shoes in any case because I found them too narrow. I could only find one company offering a shoe with a barefoot feel and flexibility and also with a ground connection, and these are Earth Runners.

For me it actually would not make a huge difference if I did wear these shoes, the reason being, that I spend all day in the office and most of the rest of the day at home. The floor is a plastic/wood laminate with a plastic membrane underneath. There is no way that my feet would ground through that.

Outdoors

What you could do instead, and what I could do, is to take a short barefoot walk in the garden during my lunch break, although the weather is not always conducive for that here. If you've read my article on Vitamin D, then you'll know that lunch time is the best time to top up on sun and get a natural Vitamin D hit. If you do this whilst lying in the grass then you will also benefit from grounding. Indeed, this is what I try to do if I can, weather and time permitting.

Grounding Conductors

Typical for any health revelation, is the rapid production of products ready to meet the needs of those having the revelation. In this case there are those who sell grounding bed sheets or mats. The sheets themselves can be very expensive as it needs to be a standard sheet but with the additional of copper fibres for conductivity. This may also affect the longevity of the sheet as they will have a tendency to break when bent or folded. A grounding mat is the other option and can be placed at the end of the bed for your feet to rest on. It could be washed less often, or maybe cleaned with a damp cloth. The actual grounding is done by connecting a wire from the sheet or mat to the nearest electrical socket. Most people will already have a socket beside their bed so this shouldn't be a problem.

Earthing sheet

Use this mat in bed to ground yourself whilst you sleep.

Purchase Grounding sheet at Amazon

If you are an office worker or sit for at least an hour each day in the same place then a cheaper option may be available. The same solution used by those electronic engineers and technicians for many decades can also be used by you to neutralize the static charge in your body. Namely, through using an antistatic wristband.

Earthing wristband

This kit includes everything you need, 1 wristband, 1 wristband connector and a plug with earth bonding point.

Purchase Antistatic Wristband at Amazon

More commonly you find the antistatic (ASD) wristband without the plug. You can make the plug yourself if you have a little electrical knowledge. You need to completely disconnect the neutral and live connectors inside the plug and cut them off. At the out end of the cable, also cut off the neutral and live connectors and place some heat-shrink around the ends to make sure nothing can contact them. Then simply connect the crocodile clip directly to the earth conductor and plug yourself in.

Shoe Conductors

Bringing it back full circle, you can retro-fit a pair of shoes with an earthing conductor. As mentioned, this is beneficial mostly for those who are outdoors a lot. For those in a USA a kit is available from Earth Runners. We are indebted to them for their ingenuity, however international shipping is expensive from everywhere apart from Europe and China and most of the cost is in the long-handle side-cutters. You can therefore try to find a local supplier, or order from Aliexpress.

Summary

This is a long article as I have tried to cover two topics in one, namely barefoot shoes and grounding. The two health benefits can be accomplished by walking around barefoot, otherwise, for the time being, purchase either some Earth Runners, or get some standard barefoot shoes and an antistatic wristband. That would be my recommendation.

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