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Are shoes a barrier that protect us from the elements, or a prison that constrains our feet? Most of us take shoes for granted so much that we'd never even consider this question, yet ditching shoes at least part of the time could offer great benefits.

The average American woman spends a whopping $20,000 on shoes in her lifetime, yet will never wear a full fifth of those because they are too uncomfortable. Uncomfortable shoes aren't the exclusive domain of women, however, and shoes certainly don't require high heels to be unhealthy. We all squeeze our feet into shoes not designed to conform to our anatomy, thereby forcing our feet to conform to the shoes we subject them to instead. Indeed, we may even put shoes on newborns, who clearly do not need them.

We take wearing shoes — often from dawn to dusk — for granted so much that few of us stop and wonder what we are really doing to our feet, never mind consider taking those shoes off more often.

Perhaps we ought to rethink that? These powerful reasons to let your feet breathe may not have you running around town barefoot any time soon, but they may cause you to leave your shoes in the cupboard just a little more often.

Your Body Is Already Telling You It's Fed-Up With Shoes

Are you an all-day shoe wearer? If you have owned and used a wide variety of different shoes, made of different materials, bought for different prices, produced in different shapes, you'll have figured out that all shoes have something in common: taking them off at the end of a long day's work brings relief.

You may not have realized that your feet were tired and hurting before you kicked those shoes to the ground, but once they come off, something strange happens. First, blood circulation returns to those parts of your feet previously constricted by your shoes, and you become aware of a slight ache. Then, your feet feel better. You enjoy the feeling of being able to move your toes around. 

Nobody who is familiar with this feeling needs a scientific study to tell them that wearing shoes all day long probably isn't optimal for their health. Shoes, and shoes of all kinds, force our feet into unnatural molds, change the way in which we're able to walk, alter our postures, and limit blood circulation within the feet.

You do not need to look to Chinese foot binding to find an example of how shoes have the potential to alter the physiology of the feet: just take your shoes off, and really look. Do your feet have the same shape as that of newborn babies or Zulu people, who go barefoot? No, they don't.

One study, titled Shod Versus Unshod: The Emergence of Forefoot Pathology in Modern Humans?, confirms that modern Europeans' feet are less healthy than those of modern Zulu people as well as those of 2000-year old skeletons. Guess which people spend the longest wearing shoes? Europeans, of course.

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