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Bare feet first into an old wives’ tale

A reader worries about the link between bare feet and winter woes: “Does having cold feet make you more susceptible to colds and flu?”

QUESTION:

Does having cold feet make you more susceptible to colds and flu? My toddler runs around with bare feet, whatever the weather. He pulls his socks off and tolerates shoes only for short periods outside.

I heard bare feet were best for learning to crawl and walk, so I didn’t make him wear socks or shoes until this winter. Then I found it almost impossible to change the habit. Now we just put shoes on to go outside. Sometimes his dad lets him go out barefoot, even in the wet. I fear he’ll catch cold, but I’m told that’s an old wives’ tale.

Surely there must be some truth in this. I know when I get sick I can trace it back to having let myself get too cold a few days earlier.

ANSWER:

The short answer is no. Last century there was a belief that being very warm followed by becoming suddenly cold might make one susceptible to colds. However, it does not seem to be the case.

Most of the world’s children go barefoot all the time. Admittedly the majority live in the warmer parts of the world, but Australian Aboriginal children in Central Australia have their feet exposed to freezing conditions and there are reports of Eskimo children dancing naked on the ice with no harm.

Children have a more responsive circulation than adults. They close down their blood supply to the skin when exposed to cold. This reduces heat loss from their bodies.

Bare feet feel the ground better and help with stability and walking. Such feet are more at risk of trauma but this is rarely serious.

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