Running makes you happy.
The ability of running to act as an anti-depressant in humans has already been proven. A preliminary UA study, however, suggests that certain types of running shoes may improve mood better than others.
A small-scale study led by UA psychiatry professor Dr. Charles Raison, found that runners who ran in five-finger shoes, commonly known as barefoot shoes, experienced a greater increase in mood than runners who ran in regular running shoes. This finding will be used in a full-scale study exploring the anti-depressant effects of running barefoot, Raison said.
Most of Raison’s research at the UA focuses on the marriage of the mind and body. He is also the mental health expert for CNNhealth.
“What we have so far doesn’t fully establish causality, but it is an intriguing preliminary finding,” Raison said.
According to Raison, there may be a sensory pathway in the foot that is stimulated differently when people run barefoot compared to when they run in shoes.
“We don’t know exactly what that is yet,” he said, “but what we are trying to test is if different foot stimulations experienced in barefoot running might enhance the anti-depressant effects of running.”
Raison got the idea for the study from his own experience running in five-finger shoes, which he said boosted his mood more than when he ran in traditional running shoes.
There were 23 local participants in the study, all of whom ran at least 20 miles per week. The participants were divided into two groups: barefoot runners and shoe runners.
“We had some world-class long-distance runners that participated in the study,” Raison said. “Not quite Olympic gold medalists, but still very experienced.”
The participants were led to think that their heart rates were being analyzed, not their mood measurements.
Data about the participants’ mood was collected using a questionnaire given both before and after the participants ran for 30 minutes at moderate intensity on a treadmill, said senior research coordinator Kim Kelly.
All of the runners from both groups ran in both types of shoes at various points throughout the experiment, and all wore Vibram five-finger shoes as a way to standardize the results and as a safety precaution.
Vibram donated five pairs of shoes for the study. Adult Vibram fitness footwear prices range from $75 to $110.
“The company was interested enough in what we were doing to donate the shoes,” Kelly said.
The researchers also took video to see where runners’ feet were striking the treadmill as they ran.
“A lot of people who run in regular running shoes tend to be heel strikers,” Kelly said. “Part of the study will be to examine the differences in mood scores between heel strikers and toe strikers.”
This data has not yet been analyzed, and the study is on the “back-burner” due to lack of grant funding, she said.
Another area of interest for the study is the benefit of running barefoot from an evolutionary perspective.
“It’s the perfect example of this idea of intelligently reincorporating anciently evolved mechanisms of well-being into the modern world,” he said.
Raison collaborated with UA anthropology professor David Raichlen for parts of the study.
“From an evolutionary perspective, the key thing to remember is that we either ran barefoot or with very minimal covering on our feet,” said Raichlen, who specializes in the evolution of human movement and exercise.
“Our feet were originally adapted for barefoot movement,” he said.
More research needs to be done before any conclusions can be made, Raichlen said.
“If you can change the way you feel just based on how you’re running, that would be a pretty amazing result,” he said.