Being Barefoot Benefits Brain Development
Studies show that shoes, especially those of a heavy nature, prevent one of the most nerve-rich parts of our body from sending important messages from the environment to our brains, and therefore stunt brain development in babies and toddlers.
Babies use the five basic senses — touch, taste, sight, hearing, and smell — to send feedback from their environment to their brains and develop their neural pathways.
But there are two other sensory systems that are rarely talked about — the proprioceptive system and the vestibular system.
Proprioception gives us the ability to perceive the motion and position of our bodies in space, while the vestibular system is responsible for balance and coordination.
The development of both of these senses relies heavily on sensory input we receive through bare feet, especially during infancy and childhood.
When activated by pressure and movement, nerve endings in the feet called proprioceptors send signals to the brain telling it how the body is oriented.
Shoes, especially those with a heavy or thick sole, block these receptors from doing their job and therefore inhibit the development of strong neurological pathways and connections.
"Parents often put shoes on their babies the moment they learn to walk, or even before they even start walking", says Dr. Kacie Flegal, who specialises in pediatrics.
“One of the simplest ways to motivate proprioceptive and vestibular development is to let our babies be barefoot as much as possible.”
By doing this, they are preventing stimulation of the proprioceptors, limiting their child’s movement, and impairing balance and coordination, as the little muscles and joints in the feet cannot adjust to the changing terrain.
“When a child is allowed to be barefoot, her tactile pathways feel the surface of the ground, proprioceptors respond to pressure, and the terrain creates slight imbalances that create neuromuscular strength, spacial orientation, balance, and coordination,” Flegal writes.
Of course, we still want to protect our children’s feet from harsher environments, which is why prewalking shoes such as Attipas are recommended by podiatrists. Flegal recommends a healthy balance of running shoe-free on a variety of natural surfaces, such as grass, dirt, sand or wet leaves, coupled with a protective, soft-sole prewalking shoes, as required.
“As a result, you will permit them a great platform for the development of higher brain centers responsible for emotional control, problem solving, language, social skills, and self-assurance,” Flegal says.