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Minimalist Shoes and Stronger Foot Muscles

Does wearing minimalist shoes exercise your feet?

Minimalism is trending in many areas of life, including athletic shoes, with many fans touting numerous benefits. But does the evidence support the hype? Yes, according to research findings published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2018; doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001751). Walking in minimalist shoes is as effective as foot-strengthening exercises and may result in better compliance than doing specific exercises.

To reach this conclusion, researchers from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and Harvard Medical School in Boston randomly assigned 57 runners to minimalist-shoe walking, foot-strengthening exercise or a control group. The research team evaluated muscle size and strength for 8 weeks and, at the conclusion, discovered that both the minimalist-shoe group and the foot-exercise group improved equally.

Lead study author Sarah T. Ridge, PhD, associate professor of exercise sciences at Brigham Young University, noted the importance of progressing daily steps gradually when first wearing minimalist shoes. “We did a study in 2011 that allowed runners to [follow their own transition program as they began running] in minimalist footwear. We ended up with a lot of ‘bony injuries’ in the foot.

“We wanted to be really cautious this time. My intuition, based on lack of pain and injuries in this study, is that many people can start at 2,500 steps per day and increase their number of steps after 1 week or start at 4,000–5,000 and increase every 2 weeks. It will depend on previous activity habits and whether they have been wearing highly supportive shoes during all of their activities.”

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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