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ABC 15 News Special Report: Benefits to going barefoot?

Some studies show the practice of 'Earthing,' spending time connecting to the earth barefoot, can have a positive impact on your health. (Pic: WPDE)

How often do you go barefoot outside?

Some claim the practice of 'Earthing,' taking time to connect to the earth without shoes, has healing properties.

"This gets back to the way that God intended us to walk," said Joshua Liddell.

Liddell was not the biggest fan of shoes as a kid.

"I never wore shoes. I ran in the street, I played barefoot, I did everything barefoot," said Liddell.

About six years ago, the yoga instructor decided to leave the shoes behind again.

"I have had people ask me questions sometimes and be like, 'Hey! Where are your shoes?' And then we get into this conversation, and by five minutes in, they totally get it," he said.

It is called 'Earthing.'

"There's something very real about getting barefoot and getting reconnected to mother nature and getting reconnected to mother earth," said Liddell. "The last three mountains I climbed, I climbed barefoot."

Some believe the electrons you absorb from the earth result in physiological changes.

"When I'm halfway up a mountain, I get charged, where my buddies get faded," said Liddell.

A study published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health revealed those who spent time connecting barefoot to the earth saw improved sleep, reduced pain and felt less stressed.

It says the electrons absorbed into the body can reduce inflammation.

For Liddell, who has a birth defect in his lower back, it has made a big difference keeping him aligned.

"It's not like I'm completely healed," he said. "I still have my issues. We all have lower back issues from time to time. But I haven't thrown my back out in years."

"If you don't have shoes on, you land more on the middle part, right in this part right here," said Dr. Scott Hamilton, pointing to a model of a skeleton foot.

Hamilton has been a podiatrist for 30 years at Coastal Podiatry Associates and is on staff at Grand Strand Medical Center.

"Wearing shoes over time actually makes your foot somewhat weaker," said Hamilton. "If you have an athletic shoe, a running shoe, on your foot strike is more heel-to-toe. Which is not really natural."

Hamilton says while there are obvious risks to going barefoot all the time, like cutting your feet, he says walking without shoes outside can affect the way you carry yourself.

"It's called your kinetic chain, from your foot up into your lower back," he said.

He says you are likely to strain muscles that are not used as much with shoes on.

"There's no more shock impacts on my knees or on my hips," said Liddell.

Liddell says most of the shock is now absorbed in the ball of his foot.

"But not everybody can adapt to being barefoot," cautioned Hamilton.

He says it is best to ease into freeing your phalanges. Hamilton used to practice barefoot running himself, until a tendon injury.

"Tread lightly," said Hamilton.

But even he acknowledges there are greater forces at play when you are footloose and fancy-free.

"The best analogy I can make of that is when you take your shoes off and walk around in grass how good that feels to you, if you haven't done that in a long time, you get that energy, or that vibe from the earth," said Hamilton.

"When you're doing something and you have a pair of gloves on, and you're doing it, can you feel it? You can't feel it as much as when you take the gloves off," said Liddell.

Liddell doesn't go barefoot all the time. He works as a part-time bartender four days a week and wears cowboy boots.

Hamilton recommends wearing thinner-soled shoes with thinner heels before going barefoot a lot.

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