We know that when we work our muscles they get stronger, and when we don’t work them, they weaken. It’s the same with the brain – the parts of the brain that are repeatedly stimulated can grow in size and in the number of neural connections. So, what does this have to do with going barefoot?
Each area of the body maps onto a part of the brain, a concept called the homunculus (Latin for ‘little person’). In the homunculus there’s two divisions – the sensory and the motor. The sensory part shows those areas of the body with more sensory receptors as larger and the motor part shows those areas with more motor receptors as larger. We have lots of sensory receptors in our hands and feet, and they are also capable of lots of fine movements so those areas are represented more in the homunculus.
When a part of the body is used more, the homunculus in the corresponding areas of the brain is stimulated and grows and develops more. However, when we put our feet in cushioned shoes all day, we deprive them of both sensory information and movement. As a result, not only do the muscles in the feet weaken (there’s over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the foot), those areas of the brain that the feet connect to also weaken and atrophy.
Conversely, when we start to work on strengthening our feet, moving them more, going barefoot and exposing them to different surfaces and sensations, we feed more sensory information into them and this starts to strengthen and stimulate the corresponding areas of the brain, creating more neural connections and developing homunculus of the foot in the brain.
When the feet get stronger and the brain becomes more attuned to receiving sensory information from them, the ability to take in more feedback from the feet further improves, and your brain is better able to interpret this information and act accordingly. With better information coming in, this translates to better movement, balance, posture and control, and it improves reactive and reflexive abilities which becomes more important as we get older.
Talk to me to find out more about how we work out to improve the body and the brain.