To keep your mind sharp, you could do crossword puzzles or try to learn a new language—basically anything that’s mind-boggling and takes practice. But a lesser-known way to maintain your cognitive abilities? Going barefoot.
“Your nervous system is especially sensitive in your feet,” says Emily Splichal, MD, podiatrist, human movement specialist, and Ashtanga yoga instructor. “And people don’t even realize that the nerves there age. The more we wear shoes, we take away that information between the feet and your brain. That’s why it’s important to be barefoot and stimulate your nervous system in that way.”
“Your nervous system is especially sensitive in your feet. And people don’t even realize that the nerves there age.”
She relates it to children—they’re often seen bouncing around. “Their nervous system is very sharp,” explains Dr. Splichal. “That’s how that system is shaped—learning how to walk and stand.” As you grow older, however, that’s when you start wearing cushioned footwear—which she says detaches you from allowing your nerves to connect with your mind. Ultimately, that function can become a little slower.
It may sound like a wild claim, but studies actually (somewhat) back it up. Dubbed “earthing,” standing on the ground barefoot is found to reduce blood viscosity (linked to cardiovascular disease) and helps with overall physiological functioning.
To reap the benefits without having to literally walk in dirt (or worse, city streets), Dr. Splichal recommends opting for minimal sneakers and thinner yoga mats—and just being shoeless on the reg.
“I encourage people to get barefoot stimulation every day,” she says. “If you can do at least two physical activities a week—whether yoga, Pilates, or strength training—you’ll get a prolonged intent behind your foot. Intentionally contracting your foot and doing balance poses connects to your core and is very beneficial, granted it’s on a flat or stimulating surface.”
Okay, great—all the more reason to kick off your shoes (and socks!) at the end of a long day.