Playing and walking barefoot helps with better balance in children

When was the last time you let your child run with abandon, without bothering about sturdy, safe shoes? Turns out, children benefit great deal by spending most of their time barefoot. It helps them develop fine motor skills and makes them better at jumping and balancing, scientists say.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics, talks about the relevance of growing up shod vs barefoot on jumping, balancing and sprinting motor performance during different stages of childhood and adolescence. The study shows that habitually barefoot children are noticeably better at jumping and balancing compared to habitually shod children, particularly from 6-10 years of age.

While these beneficial barefoot effects diminished in older adolescents, the research nevertheless highlights the importance of barefoot exercise for motor development as children grow and mature. “Walking barefoot is widely thought to be more natural, and the use of footwear has long been discussed as an influencing factor on foot health and movement pattern development,” says Astrid Zech, a professor at University of Jena in Germany.

Walking barefoot also helps develop muscles. “The feet carry the weight of the whole body and serve as a medium between the body and the ground. When a child starts walking and running the forces of gravity act upon the body from the ground and enable the muscle to develop a synergistic action. This coupled with the body movements helps the child to develop gross motor skills,” says Dr Snehal Deshpande, paediatrician, Wockhardt Hospital, Mira Road.

When kids walk barefoot, they get more sensory stimulation, explains Dr Aruna Kalra, gynaecologist and obstetrics surgeon, CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram. “Skin is exposed to tactile stimulation through sensory receptors on the soles and stimulates brain. Bare foot kids get more sensory stimulation and motor reflexes are developed better. That is the reason children left bare foot are expert in balancing their bodies and have quicker reflexes.”

There are many benefits to going barefoot apart from motor skills:

1) Prevents germs: Turns out more germs live in those shoes than outside. Bacteria and fungus thrive in dark, moist and warm environment, such as your little one’s shoes.

2) Develop body awareness: Going barefoot helps children develop body awareness as they come in direct contact with the environment. They can move more freely and it also helps build spacial orientation.

3) Prevent injury: Going barefoot also helps children avoid injuries as spending too much time in shoes may make them feel restricted. It helps strengthen arches and ankles.

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