Dr. Michael Nirenberg is the inventor of FloWalking, which helps many to walk pain-free.

by Dr. Michael Nirenberg, DPM

Walking au naturel may sound a bit naughty but when it comes to your feet, going barefoot is one of the simplest ways to make walking better and healthier.

As a podiatrist, I have studied the benefits of barefoot activity and embraced them to the point that I advise many of my patients to dare to go bare. Research shows that when populations of people who wear shoes regularly are compared with those who do not, the shoe-wearing people have more foot problems and deformities. Beyond that, science is finding that other ailments, such as back and knee pain and arthritis, may be lessened with barefoot activity. Feet evolved to walk. So why do they need to be encased in thickly padded, supportive shoes? After all we didn’t exactly evolve with latex foam under our feet.

Shoes do offer protection for those of us who live in man-made environments. Walking with feet unclad likely means walking unprotected, and nowadays protection is king: We want our cars to have more air bags, our government to stop the terrorists, and our sex free from disease. The thought of trudging down a city street barefoot may conjure up a fear of stepping on a rusty nail or something even worse. In my 20 years as a podiatrist I have rarely seen patients come in with a rusty nail embedded in a foot, but of course the possibility does exist. Then again, you could also get struck by a meteor!

So how do we protect our feet while still being able to give our body the remarkable benefits of going barefoot? Fortunately, shoe companies have begun to recognize a demand for people to use their feet as evolution intended them to by offering “barefoot” or minimalist shoes. Minimalist shoes provide protection from the environment while being light and flexible enough to allow our feet to function almost as if they were barefoot. It’s like having your cake, eating it too, and also realizing that it’s a diet aid!

In fact, the choices for minimalist shoes recently exploded. There are many great shoes, but here are just a sample for you to consider: Asics Gel Neo 33, Nike Free 3.0 v3, Brooks Pure Connect, Pearl Izumi Kissaki, Newton MV2, Reebok Realflex, Mizuno Wave Universe 4, Skechers GoRun, Inov-B Bare-X 200, Merrell Barefoot Road Glove, New Balance Minimus Zero Road.

If you have spent your life wearing thick, supportive shoes and want to start wearing minimalist shoes, it is important to transition to walking in them gradually and cautiously, and be sure to not “over do it.” Supportive shoes often do much of the work that our muscles were meant to do and as a result our muscles may need to strengthen initially. Furthermore, people who have medical issues that could affect the feet, such as diabetes, neuropathy, deformities or poor circulation, are at risk for injury and should see a podiatrist prior to transitioning to minimalist shoes. And no, I’m not just trying to drive more business to my profession!

So now you have the basics on walking in the bare. It doesn’t matter how well heeled or straightlaced you are, you’ll find that minimalist footwear satisfies your sole!

This essay original appeared on ShoeDigest.com. Dr. Michael Nirenberg, who has been featured on Fox News, the History Channel and in numerous magazines, newspapers and other publications, is a podiatric physician and surgeon, and forensic podiatrist, and the inventor of FloWalking.