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Who needs shoes? Barefoot running is good for you

And you thought barefoot running was just some wacky new fitness craze. Well, new research from Harvard scientists suggests that the bare human foot is better able to withstand the impact of running than fancy cushioned sneakers can.

The study, appearing in the new issue of the journal Nature, describes the mechanics of running barefoot, or with minimal footwear, and how it can actually help prevent injury.

Sounds nutty, right? Not to mention painful. But researchers found that in shoes, runners strike the ground heel-first, generating a far more powerful -- and potentially painful -- blow than do barefoot runners, who hit the ground toward the middle or front of the foot. Simply put, running barefoot allows the foot to strike in a way that triggers less of an impact, researchers said.

After all, for millions of years humans have been running barefoot or with no-frills footwear like sandals or moccasins, the study explains. Running shoes weren't invented until the 1970s. Somehow, humankind managed quite well all that time without them. 

Not everyone is convinced that running sans shoes translates into fewer injuries.

"I think the contentious part will be whether wearing shoes and changing the pattern of running...actually has an impact on foot injury," Brian Richmond, an anthropologist at George Washington University told the Boston Globe. "It's an idea worth examining, because basically what they found is how people would run in a more natural setting."

Harvard scientists have been studying the differences for years and you can find some of their extensive findings at the team's barefoot running site. They even offer tips on how to run properly without shoes. Tip: start working on those calluses now.

As I recall, Picture of Health has quite a few readers who are big fans of shoeless running. When we wrote about the issue in the fall, many of you said you were inspired to ditch your Nikes after reading reading Born to Run, the New York Times bestseller by Christopher McDougall about the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico who run mega-long distances without a problem.

So, are you still at it? Any thoughts about the new research?

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