Some recent research is claiming that running barefoot could make you smarter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be the best choice for keeping your body safe and happy.
A recent study that was done at the University of North Florida and published in Perceptual and Motor Skills had 72 participants run for them.
The participants were between the ages of 18 and 44, and were chosen to either run in shoes or barefoot for 16 minutes around a track. Before and after the run their working memory was measured.
For some reason the people who ran in their shoes saw no change to their working memory, but the people who ran barefoot saw on average a 16 percent increase in their working memory performance. This was determined by their ability to do things like remember instructions and directions.
As for why this happens, the researchers think it could be because the “tactile and proprioceptive demands” of running barefoot lead the body to tap into the working memory more, which can keep it growing and functioning.
According to lead study author Ross Alloway:
“This research shows us that we can realize our cognitive potential and enjoy ourselves at the same time. If we take off our shoes and go for a run, we can finish smarter than when we started.”
The researchers also asked the participants to step on chips as they ran, which was to measure how well the barefoot runners could gauge where to step causing the least potential injury to the foot.
The thing is, that running barefoot is something to get used to. While people who are born doing it and going to be skilled barefoot runners, people who are used to shoes are going to be at risk of injuring themselves pretty significantly.
Wearing shoes creates certain habits and when we suddenly switch to running barefoot we keep our shoes habits, which can include things like striking on the heels, over striding, and putting excess pressure on the calf and foot muscles.
It is possible to adjust to running barefoot but you also have to keep in the other potentials for injury such as just stepping on things that you don’t expect to be there. (Broken glass is a common concern.)
If you decide that you want to try it out you might be best transitioning into it by getting some of the minimalist shoes that mimic barefoot running but still provide some comfort and safety in the process. You can work those into your regular running routine or just switch to them completely, and you might get some of the benefits.