8 Benefits of Walking and Running Barefoot on Sand
Who wouldn't enjoy a barefoot stroll along a sandy beach? Even the thought of such a pleasurable outing will infect some people with a daydreaming sigh.
It's no secret that going barefoot on sand has its appeal, but did you know it also has many health benefits? If you think wandering down a beach is time wasted, then guess again. Here are the benefits of walking on sand and running on the beach barefoot.
1. Strength Training
You know that mild struggle you feel when take a step forward in dry sand and your foot sinks a bit trying to get traction? That's your muscles at work! Scientists say it takes 2.1–2.7 times more energy to walk or run on sand than it does to move at the same pace on hard surfaces. That energy is used to strengthen all the muscles between your feet and back, especially your calves, quadriceps and glutes. The dryer the sand, the harder the work... though runners may prefer wetter, firmer sand to maintain proper form.
2. Burn Calories
The energy used to strengthen those muscles has to come from somewhere. According to Berkley Wellness, you can expect to burn approximately 50% more calories by walking or running on sand than you would on paved ground.
3. Improved Propriception
Proprioception—a favorite term among barefoot runners and fans of minimal shoes—is defined as the ability to sense stimuli arising within the body regarding position, motion, and equilibrium. Basically, good walking proprioception means your mind is in touch with the stimuli coming from your feet, which helps you connect with the world around you. While thickly-padded conventional shoes can numb this ability, walking barefoot on sand is a great way to tap into it. After all, you have between 3,000–7,000 nerve endings in each of your feet. Just think about feeling all those grains under the sensitive part of your arch or between your toes when you walk... I feel tingly already!
If your feet are confined in tight or constricting shoes all day, then kicking them off and letting your toes move and stretch out naturally is a great way to give yourself some relief. Sand conforms to your feet without restricting them, so it's almost like a walking foot massage. And if your stroll or run takes you past a body of water then the sound of waves and seagulls will likely help your stress fade away. A study from the University of Exeter suggested that people who spent more time on beaches had less stress and better overall health.
The theory behind grounding, also known as earthing, is that electrical energy from the earth can be absorbed through your feet when you walk barefoot (especially on wet or moist sand) and lead to a multitude of health benefits. Even if you take this theory with a grain of sand—haha—few people would disagree that turning off your cell phone and walking barefoot is a meditative activity that will help you feel mentally grounded and centered. According to a study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, staying constantly plugged into electrical devices has been associated with stress, loss of sleep and depression. Don't underestimate the benefits of a clear and relaxed mind!
6. Gait Analysis
This will appeal more to runners, but if you're interested in analyzing your footstrike then you can either go through the trouble of setting up a slow motion camera by a treadmill at the gym or you can just run barefoot down a sandy beach. A simple glance at your footsteps can tell you quite a bit. Wherever you see a deep indentation shows where you're striking the ground (minimalist runners advocate a midfoot or forefoot strike). If you see a heavy imprint at both the heel and the toe then you may be landing on the heel, rolling to the toe and pushing off too harshly. Strive for a light step that disturbs the sand as little as possible. Hint: slightly wet sand closer to the water will give a cleaner imprint than dry sand.
7. Naturally Exfoliating
Who needs to spend big bucks at a spa when you can revive your feet for free? Wet sand acts as an exfoliant that helps peel dead skin cells from your body. Try it out by walking or running in loose sand and then wandering into the path of shallow waves from time to time to wash it off. It will work for the rest of your body, too!
8. Vitamin and Mineral Boost
Vitamin D is obviously plentiful on any sunny beach, and it has been shown to help improve calcium absorption, autoimmune response and mood. A study conducted by the Baker Heart Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia found that increased sunlight also led to reduced stress and improved sleep and appetite. If you're on a salty beach then the water also contains a multitude of healthy minerals like magnesium, potassium and iodine. Many saltwater minerals are used in topical anti-aging products, so why not step into the waves a bit and get a free dose?
CAUTION: while sun exposure may have its benefits, overexposure can be dangerous. Wearing a hat with good coverage, trying to avoid walking between 11am–1pm when the sun is brightest and/or using a good (natural/mineral) sunscreen will help. It is also important to stay hydrated, especially on hot days, so don't forget your water bottle!
Martin is a lifelong runner who began wearing minimalist shoes over 10 years ago when he found they alleviated his chronic foot pain, which eventually disappeared completely. He further studied proper running form through a series of workshops taught by Correct Toes inventor, Dr. Ray McClanahan DPM. Martin has collaborated with several health care professionals to collect and share peer-reviewed studies that show the benefits of minimalist footwear. In his personal life, Martin loves living in the Pacific Northwest because it allows him to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities year-round, including hiking, cycling, rock climbing, surfing and snowboarding.