Running barefoot could benefit that part of our memories that helps guide our day to day decisions. [Photo: Bigstock]

Memory flagging? Kick your shoes off and run!

12 May, 2016

Natural Health News — Running barefoot is better than running with shoes on if you want to help boost your working memory, according to an intriguing new study

Working memory – our ability to recall and process information – is used throughout our lifespan. By improving it, we may be able to improve, amongst other things, our day to day decision making processes.

“Working memory is increasingly recognised as a crucial cognitive skill, and these findings are great news for people looking for a fun way to boost their working memory,” said researcher Tracy Alloway, associate professor, from the Department of Psychology at University of North Florida.

This is the first study to show a connection between barefoot running and memory.

What you need to know

» Barefoot runners have better balance and use less energy when they run. Now a new study has shown they may also have better memories.

» The researchers compared people running barefoot and or in shoes under simulated real world conditions, which included objects on the path that had to be stepped on.

» The barefoot runners demonstrated a 16% increase in working memory after a session of barefoot running, while those who wore shoes showed no improvement.

The researchers enlisted 72 participants between the ages of 18 and 44, who ran – both barefoot and in shoes – at a comfortable, self-selected pace for approximately 16 minutes in the lab.

Watching your step

When running barefoot, one often has to avoid stepping on potentially hurtful objects by using precise foot placement. To simulate real world conditions, study participants were also required from time to time to step on flat objects to simulate running barefoot in an outdoors context. Working memory was measured before and after running.

The results of this research, just published in Perceptual and Motor Skills, found a significant increase – approximately 16% – in working memory performance in the barefoot-running group. There was no significant increase in working memory when running with shoes.

“The little things often have the greatest impact. This research shows us that we can realize our cognitive potential and enjoy ourselves at the same time,” said lead researcher Ross Alloway. “If we take off our shoes and go for a run, we can finish smarter than when we started.”

According to him it’s possible that the barefoot runners had to use their working memory more to judge and avoid (or not) the flat objects in their path. This, he says, may account for the gains they found in working memory.