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99% of the Earth’s Surface is Covered in Broken Glass! (… and 101 other myths about training barefoot)

5 Jul

 

Logic such as this has had your over protective mother shoving your feet into some variation of a shoe since probably before you could even walk (where’s the logic in that!) Add in the social stigma that feet are nasty, disgusting things that should be hidden from sight and your pups may never be freed from their dreaded synthetic leather and polyurethane prison.

“But what on Earth does this have to do with health and well-being?”. Probably a lot more than you’ve ever considered.

Someone much more eloquent  than myself once said, “ You can’t build a tower without a strong foundation”… except much more eloquently…. Did you know that 25% of the bones in your body are in your feet? This network of bones, tendons, and ligaments is one of the most complex in the body. Millions of nerve ending send feedback to the brain which makes fine adjustments for balance, propulsion, etc. It’s really quite impressive. That is, until you put on your sneakers.

Ah, the wonderful, magnificent shoe. Without this glorious invention humans would not be capable of venturing into the great outdoors for fear of its beer bottle tops and the glass shards. We would be forever confined to the plush carpet prison known as our living room. Shoes provide “support” for the foot, act to cushion the impact of movement ( which can exceed 500lbs. per foot when running!), create a barrier to prevent accidental penetration when kicking ass, not to mention protect the tender soles of your feet from hot sand, rusty nails and gravel parking lots. Those shoe things sure are fantastic!

Yeah, but not really….

Modern Humans have been walking this planet barefoot for nearly 2 million years and many still do so to this day. Strapping your foot into restrictive, over padded, inflexible foot wear is essentially placing your foot in a cast. Remember that ridiculous song someone forced you to sing in order to learn basic human anatomy? “ The shin bones connected to the knee bone, the knee bones connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bones connected to the hip bone….” So on and so forth….Well, it turns out it’s a little more than just a goofy song, it is the perfect analogy for understanding how wearing shoes can really get you out of sorts. Wearing shoes forces you to walk and run with an unnatural gait. Observe.

As the rather boring gentlemen pointed out in the video, running with shoes causes you to strike the ground incorrectly with the heel landing first. This stresses the joints and ligaments and really can create a whole mess of problems. Feet ache? Knees hurt? Hip pain? Lower back pain? These ailments are virtually unknown to barefoot cultures. As are knee replacements, hip replacements and degenerative vertebrae in the lower back. Your body is designed to operate without shoes. Take a minute to parade around in your shoes and take note of how you are walking. Now take off your shoes and walk a bit. Feel the difference? When walking barefoot you should be “reaching out” for the ground with the ball and middle area of the foot. This acts as a shock absorber for your stride. Running makes the difference painfully obvious. Try land heel first running barefoot and your body will immediately let you know that this is NOT how things are supposed to work! Perhaps the most compelling evidence to ditch the kicks comes from a 1905 study on barefoot walking cultures. This link will take you to the Abstract. The study is available as a PDF download at the bottom of the page. A must read as far as I’m concerned.The images are absolutely shocking! Hobbit feet anyone?

Ok, so maybe I’ve been successful in convincing you that shoes are not in fact the savior of our species, now what? I’ve been training barefoot for nearly six months now and I still have a way to go before I will be completely comfortable barefoot. It takes time to undo a lifetime of atrophy! There are lots of muscle fibers down there that haven’t been recruited for many, many years or perhaps even a lifetime! When is the last time you’ve sprinted on an uneven surface barefoot? Probably been a while. If you want to join in on the barefoot madness, definitely take it slow. The first day I got my Vibrams (awesome barefoot running shoes), I went for a 6 mile run. Well, a planned 6 mile run…. after 1.5 miles I was cramping so bad I nearly had to crawl back to the car! I could barely walk for a week! Learn from my stupidity. Start with walking around inside barefoot. When your ready, take it outside (but don’t tell your mom it was my idea or she won’t let us be friends anymore) Start in the grass or on a sidewalk and gradually work your way up to walking on uneven ground, in the woods (pinecones suck at first), and eventually on gravel.

For those awkward moments when society requires shoes (or in public restrooms, yuck), invest in something minimalist such as a pair of Vibrams. Anything flexible, loose fitting, with a flat bottom will work. You’ll get all the benefits of walking barefoot (minus the bio feedback) without actually walking around barefoot (imagine that). Heres some tips on picking the right pair of shoes. And while training barefoot may kick ass, barefoot ass kicking is NOT recommended. You have been warned.

 

 

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Your Brain is Shrinking! (hopefully not as a result of reading this…)

12 Jun

Lions eat meat.

A fact that very few logical people would contest. For hundreds of thousands if not millions of years ( My Young Earth Creationist friends stay with me!), lions and their predecessors evolved to thrive on a diet consisting solely of meat. If you were to feed a lion a vegetarian diet would you expect it to retain its health and vigor? Probably not. And he would probably be angry enough to eat off your face.

Most logical people would agree with this line of thought. Now… substitute lion for human. What happens then?

“Humans don’t live solely off of meat, silly! They run on low-fat bran muffins and tofurkey burgers!”

Um. No. Sorry.

When you remove the “beautiful and unique snowflake” equation (ala Tyler Durden) from humanity, are we not just another animal? Albeit highly evolved and extremely intelligent. Does our intelligence somehow make us immune to biology? To the ill effects of a complete dietary 180?

Let me paint you a brief picture of human history. Close your eyes and relax as we go back 1.9 million years. Wait…open your eyes, you will need them open to continue… unless reading this has caused you to scourge them from your head. In that case, close the laptop and seek immediate medical attention.

Try to imagine what life might have been like for you as one of our earliest human ancestors…

You’ve just found out about this really awesome invention called fire. You can use it to scare off predators, cook meals and tons of other cool stuff (like set stuff on fire. duh). It’s so much more useful that four-sided thing they call “the wheel”. Agriculture won’t exist for another 1,890,000 years give or take ( sorry no bran muffins) so you and your immediate family work together as a tribe of hunter gatherers. Women would nurse/ care for younger children while gathering wild edibles. Men and older male children would partake in hunting large and small game and supplement by gathering wild vittles as they tracked animals.

The average daily calorie expenditure for a hunter gatherer is somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000-3,600 calories a day. That’s a lot of treadmill time! Chances are ( Vegans cover your ears!) you would be eating A LOT of meat and fat. The amount of food you would have to pound away in order to acquire 3,600 calories from vegetation alone is just staggering. Uncooked legumes (beans) have made you massively ill on more than one occasion so you do not eat them ( sorry no tofu)! It’s safe to say that the lion’s share (pun intended) of calories came from proteins and fats  while carbohydrate intake would remain relatively low. Don’t get me wrong. Lots of vegetables were consumed and they were a critical part of our development but depending on what part of the world you live in, you may not eat significant amounts of vegetables for months at a time ( winter) or hardly ever (Inuits). Nuts, seeds and fruits were eaten when in season but once again availability depends on your distance from the equator.

This was the human diet for nearly 2 million years. Meat, eggs, fish, nuts and seeds, tubers, and seasonal fruit.

“Yeah, but how do we REALLY know? I mean, it’s not like there are cavemen walking around that we can ask.”

Not cavemen per say but there are still a few ancestral societies in existence today that have been going about business as usual for the last couple hundred millenia. These are robust, active people who enjoy vibrant health well into their 60’s and 70’s (with NO modern medicine, vaccines, routine checkups, etc.). Diabetes, Cancer, and Heart Disease is virtually non-existent. Perhaps even more compelling is the isotope analysis of Paleolithic human bones revealing…. you guessed it. Lots of meat ( you are indeed what you eat).

Fast forward 1,980,000 years to the advent of agriculture. Humans figured out they could cultivate cereal grains and other crops and produce ample amounts of food. Everyone lived happily ever after.

Not quite.

The grain based diet paled in comparison to the nutrient dense, hunter gatherer diet that our bodies evolved to depend on. Did you know that Dr. Temperance Brennan can determine whether or not a skull belongs to a modern human that lived pre-agriculture or post-agriculture within seconds of examining it? After the advent of agriculture, humans became smaller and weaker, unable to fight of infections and diseases as well as our more robust paleolithic ancestors. Disease grew rampant and infant mortality rates skyrocketed. Even the human brain has steadily decreased since the dawn of agriculture.

Lions eat meat. A fact that few logical people would contest.