How does a person catch cold? What do people mean when they say you can catch cold? And does running barefoot in cold conditions cause a person to catch cold? The concern sounds a lot like the once common viewpoint that taking a bath causes sickness, especially in the winter. And, it is noteworthy, that both concerns are basically built on the same premise: That exposure to lower temperatures causes illness.
There is only one clear factor in getting sick. Exposure to pathogens through other people. Even with that given, not everyone gets measurably sick or shows symptoms to the same degree, thus there must be other variables. But is going barefoot in the winter one of them?
Most people would agree that there are things that tend to lower a body’s resistance to fighting off germs, from personal experience and observation. But even those things are not sure indicators and often get distorted by superstition. For instance, being excessively tired is thought to predispose one to getting sick, and for me there seems to be a pattern of this occurring. Sometimes. There have also been a few times when my family needed me to not get sick and I didn’t, though through no mental powers of my own, because I wasn’t even thinking about it at the time. One example was when several other people in the family had a delirious fever, long lasting, and progressing from one person to another over about 6 weeks. I never showed signs of illness. This was even more noteworthy, because I am usually one in the family that gets the sickest for the longest. And believe me, I was tired for those 6 weeks!
Lack of proper nutrition or food of questionable quality are thought to lead to sickness. There again, it seems to be depend. My husband seems to be able to eat anything and not get sick. We have not taken this to extremes, but he will not give up on “aging” food as soon as I will. He has finally conceded that consuming such food IS likely to make me have unpleasant repercussions, but he still wants to eat these items. On the other hand, I am much more consistent in eating a balanced and nutritious diet than he is, and it hardly seems fair that I am the one who tends to get the sickest!
It has been this way for all 32 years of your marriage, and I have only been going barefoot for around 4 years, so it can’t be that. However, let us examine the idea that being barefoot stresses the body in any way that might make things worse. We might as well get down to asking, “Does being in the cold or feeling cold lead to illness?”
There does seem to be a pattern that more people get sick at certain times of year. Is this because of people being exposed to cold or because the germs get activated in certain environmental conditions? Or, is it because people are indoors, in less fresh air, when there are colder temperatures? Even with something like tuberculosis, all we have are correlations that boil down to the same basic issues of sanitation and overall health. And even then, not everyone succumbs to the same extent. And, again, one of the “strongest” correlations is how many people are breathing the same warm air in a closed space.
To say that exposure to cold causes illness has one major problem. Cold is a subjective sensation. It is moderated by such things as body mass, activity level, and adaptation to climate. We have all seen the person from tropic regions wear a parka in weather where the natives of a region with winter are still wearing shorts and flip-flops. Then, there are the times when we all go outside dressed in layers of warmth, only to strip them off for comfort as we generate heat from chopping wood or skiing. Does that stress the body, to have the pores open, and even sweating to rid the body of heat? Would it rather not stress the body to not let it cool off when it obviously needs to?
To be thorough, let’s ponder whether or not exposure of a certain body part is more likely to stress the body than exposure of another. Specifically, do bare feet touching the cold ground stress the body so that germs more easily overpower the immune system? Would this be anymore of a stressor than the nose breathing in cold (fresh!) air and needing to warm it? Is it worse than the hands being exposed or the head being uncovered? I’m sure everyone has their biases, but there seems to be a lack of consensus due to lack of real evidence. Even among the “experts,” you will be hard pressed to find agreement, but here is one website that talks about cold and colds. I suggest we let people decide how they are comfortable in certain temperatures and leave it at that.
Speaking of comfort, there are properties of regularly bare feet that those people who wear shoes may not have thought of. The regularly bare foot has increased circulation due to more active muscles. With the whole foot being much more engaged, those muscles are doing the work they are designed to do and this produces heat. There is also the increased padding that develops on the bottom of a regularly bare foot, particularly if it is bare outdoors, where there are rougher surfaces to stimulate it. There is also the nice, leathery sole that a regularly bare foot sports. This still allows for proprioception and balance, way beyond what anyone gets through footwear, but regularly bare feet are insulated by this. All of the skin on the regularly bare foot is exposed to air more and this leads to a firmer skin. It is no longer kept all moist and gooey inside shoes, the perfect environment for germs to grow, by the way. For reference, the skin on the face is almost always exposed to air and it is still soft, but firm.
If being barefoot in colder weather helps a person to be more active, then there is a good chance that it increases overall health and actually boosts the immune system. Sure, everyone needs to be aware of testing unfamiliar temperatures and conditions, but bare feet have a chance to become strong in ways that feet in shoes cannot. Since feet are the foundation of getting around for most people, one could wonder if bare feet, even in the cold, lead to healthy bodies.