feet-brain connection, minimalistic shoes, strong feet, heal feet, karyn shanks, karyn shanks md

Favorite Shoes to Support the Feet-Brain Connection

Yah, I know, I know, Word and Google don’t like “feet-brain” connection. They insist on “foot-brain” connection!

But they’re wrong.

It’s not foot. Not for most of us. It’s feet. We have two feet and our brain relates to two feet. I stand firm. Feet-brain connection it is!

The best way to strengthen and enliven your feet, and increase the sensory information they send your brain to support you, is to wear no shoes at all. That’s right—barefoot standing and walking is the way to go.

But, as much as I love living in my bare feet (and do most of the time), it’s just not practical. First, who wants to walk down the street and step on peoples’ detritus? Yah, we could toughen our feet to the point that we could walk on anything—it is completely possible. But let’s be real.

Priority #1 is to spend as much time in bare feet: standing, walking, squatting, on heels and tiptoes—just moving and providing as much movement and sensory stimulation as possible. This strengthens and improves function of the feet, and it fortifies the feet-brain connection.

Priority #2 is to cover and protect your feet in ways that preserve their integrity of function.

What does this mean?

Wear minimalistic shoes. These are shoes with just enough covering to protect the feet from rough surfaces and extremes of temperature. They allow your feet and all your toes to move freely, without restriction. They do not have padding, arch support, or elevation (heel or platform).

Okay, you can stop rolling your eyes now! I’m not saying never ever wear your adorable platform shoes or cowgirl boots! (I’m not giving up mine!) What I’m proposing is a foundational strategy for how we spend most of our time—in our feet—for the sake of our feet-brain connection.

How to find minimalistic shoes:

Vivobarefoot. These shoes are incredible—great looking, minimalistic, comfortable, and get this—sustainably made from recycled materials! I’ve tried several styles on and find they consistently run on the small side. These are very comfortable if one is used to walking in bare feet.

Vibram Five-Fingers Shoes. I mention these not because I like them, but because they became all the craze after Christopher McDougall published his classic book, Born to Run, in 2009, touting barefoot living as a more natural and effective way to move about the earth. I personally find the material that surrounds the toes uncomfortable and confining. This constriction is antithetical to the aim of mobilizing and strengthening the individual toes for optimal function. Plus they’re just plain ugly—I’d pass.

Athletic shoes. Many popular brands of athletic shoes are coming out with their own versions of minimalistic, light shoes for running and cross-training. I’ve worn (and love) Nike Free Flyknit, but concerns about how they treat workers around the world has been brought to my attention.

Athletic shoe companies with the best ratings for their ethical treatment of workers and consideration of environmental industrial impact are Adidas, Brooks, Merrell, and New Balance.

Though I’ve not yet tried them for myself, Etiko, a company based in Australia, creates minimalistic, converse-like shoes that are completely fair trade and cruelty-free, and they’re super cute!

Have a Beautiful day!


p.s. From my Archives:

On Being Calm and Strong: the Surprising Feet-Brain Connection. 2018.


Christopher McDougall. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. 2009.

Rebecca Ciaramidaro. Sweatshop-free sports shoes. Choice. 2018.

Ethical living: choosing sports shoes. The Guardian. 2012.

Best Minimalistic Running Shoes Reviewed and Rated. Nicer Shoes. 2018.

Karyn Shanks MD


Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of Functional Medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-eight year career. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves.

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