Study: Barefoot Running May Improve Perception And Working Memory

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

ThinkBarefootA recent study (pdf) out of the University of North Florida is shedding light on the cognitive effects of running barefoot. Their study, which consisted of 72 fit and healthy students, tested how working memory is affected by running barefoot versus shod.

The results were rather interesting, and support the idea that barefoot running requires more attention and awareness to avoid treading on obstacles. The trial ran over 2 days, and participants performed several running sessions around a track, alternating barefoot and shod. While running they were tasked with trying to step on small targets strewn about the course, while also performing a working memory test (phew!).

The results showed that runners who had completed a barefoot run in an earlier session and were trying to step on the targets in a later session, had higher working memory scores than the the other groups. What this suggests is that running barefoot and trying to pick a particular route, can engage the working memory part of the brain more effectively than in other scenarios.

The paper suggests that this may be a result of increased proprioception from actually feeling the targets, and also from the need to be more aware of the route chosen when running. They go on to suggest that further studies are required, on larger populations, and that testing experienced barefoot runners could provide some more interesting and useful results.

It’s exciting to see creative studies involving barefoot running starting to emerge. This particular study seems to have been reasonably rigorous, well thought out, and conservative in its conclusions. Another small part of the puzzle of what makes barefoot running different from shod running has been revealed, which is great news for our sport.

What do you think of this study? Have you noticed any benefits from making the switch to barefoot? Let us know in the comments!