Unlike hand dexterity, foot dexterity is not a very popular phenomenon. In recent years however, scientists have done some research into the prehensility of the feet to understand them better and harness the untapped resources that our feet can bring us.
The question of whether foot dexterity is good for the brain is already a given if you have some insight into how neuroplasticity works. However, for those of us who are unaware, many studies prove that the brain is capable of changing and developing new neural pathways throughout different stages of our life.
There are certain activities and situations that can inspire or spur such changes, this article will explain how and why foot dexterity is one of them.
How Foot Dexterity changes the Brain
There was a recent study involving two professional foot artists and twenty-one other people who acted as the control group. The study was carried out to find out if the human brain is able to adapt and see each toe as a separate entity like it does with fingers.
Humans are primarily predisposed to using their fingers, this is the reason why the somatosensory cortex in the brain has our fingers mapped out separately as individual entities. This is because the somatosensory cortex in the brain is responsible for receiving and processing all sensory stimuli from our bodies, including touch, which is primarily carried out by the fingers.
A unique thing to note is that this mapping feature is absent in the somatosensory cortex when it comes to the toes of humans, but toe mapping is present in the brain of other primate animals. These primate animals who are exceptionally dexterous with both their hands and feet have a distinct brain mapping for each of their toes and fingers.
In the study carried out in the U.K in the University College London, and cited earlier in this post, experimental controls were used. The researchers discovered that in the somatosensory cortex of the foot painters, distinct foot regions flared up whenever the dexterous foot was tapped. This was similar to the brain’s reaction anytime our fingers touch something.
This reaction or flaring up was pinpointed on further investigation to the fact that the single foot that caused such reactions in the brain was the dexterous foot used for grasping things or wielding paintbrushes while using the other, less dexterous foot, to steady themselves. They could also use their feet to carry out multiple everyday tasks such as typing, getting dressed or picking up the phone.
The research concluded that the dexterity of their feet makes them view and use their foot the same way they would view and use their hands. And this in turn leads to the development of a more sensitive and distinctive sensory perception of the toes, thereby making the toes of people with foot dexterity more sensitive to stimuli than those without foot dexterity.
The experiment involved two foot painters and other twenty-one other participants who could only use their hands to complete tasks that made them utilize their toe motor control and sensory nerves around the toes. The scientists used a high resolution functional MRI to monitor and scan all the participants’ reactions in the somatosensory cortex region of their brain while the scientists tapped their toes.
Essentially, it is important to note that there is a structural and functional difference in the brains of people who have prehensile feet and those who do not.
How Improving your Balance Could Increase Cognition and Memory
Cognitive improvement and memory enhancement have been linked a lot with physical exercises. However, only a select few physical exercises are associated with memory and cognitive enhancement. The National Center for Biotechnology Information published a hypothesis testing two different types of physical exercises on cognitive and memory increment. In the experiment, forty people were randomly categorized into a balance training intervention. The participants were a healthy mix of people aged between 19 and 65 years and they were made to exercise twice a week over a period of twelve weeks.
Before the experiment began, the participants were tested for memory and spatial cognition, cardiorespiratory fitness, balance performance and executive functions. After the twelve-week experiment, the participants were tested again, and the participants in the balance group had a significant increase in their memory and spatial cognitive abilities. Changes in executive functions and cardiorespiratory fitness were not observed in all the participants after the experiment. It was also discovered that exciting the vestibular system during balance exercises or training might induce changes in the parietal cortex and hippocampus.
It is noteworthy that investing in balance exercises can have huge benefits on your cognitive and memory abilities, even more so than cardiorespiratory fitness.
Why Foot Health is Important
It is very common for people to ignore their feet until something ‘big’ happens to them, like blisters, calluses or getting a fungus infection. But you must realize that your foot is just as important as any other part of your body and it deserves to be cared for like you would any other parts of your body.
Your feet are basically one of the most important and yet most ignored part of the body. The American Podiatric Medical Association, APMA considers the feet an awe, a marvel of engineering. They go through a lot of force bearing and weight carrying. Interestingly, being the most posterior appendage easily leads to its neglect and that is what also makes it one of the most vulnerable to diseases and poor health. Being the farthest from the heart, it requires functional arteries to get blood to them.
Peripheral arterial diseases can lead to a reduction in blood flow to the feet and this can lead to plaque. Other common foot diseases range from foot skin, bones or tissue disease like athlete’s foot, Bunions and neuromas. When your feet are badly treated it will lead to complications, and this may lead to a sedentary lifestyle which is one of the causes of some heart diseases and cancer types.
Even something as simple as properly drying between your toes to prevent having foot fungus in the long run will go a long way towards your foot health. Your feet house about 60 joints, ligaments and tendons, and 200 muscles. It is imperative to care for your feet because loss of mobility will not just lead to an overall physical health deterioration but also a drop in mental health. Regularly checking in with a podiatrist will also go a long way, especially if you have pre-existing conditions like diabetes.
One of the best ways to help recover your feet if the are sore is to soak them in a bucket of warm water and Epsom salt or magnesium chloride for 15-30min
Why being Barefoot is Good for your Brain
Walking barefoot is also popularly called earthing, this name was probably coined because of the movement on natural surfaces like sand, soil or grass. The health benefits surrounding walking barefoot stems from the interaction our body has with the electrons from the earth when we walk around in bare feet.
The planet earth has a natural charge that we benefit directly from when we move barefooted. For a long time, many people associated walking barefooted as a hippie or strange behavior, however recent studies have started demystifying this relaxing and highly beneficial act.
An experiment published by the Journal of Environmental and Public Health featured quite a number of researches that focused on how getting electrons from the earth can improve our health and impact our brain. One of the studies involved a patient with chronic pain who was made to sleep on a grounded carbon fiber mattress and the patient slept much better and experienced a reduction in pain.
In another experiment, an electroencephalogram was used to measure the changes in electrical activity in the brain and at the end of the experiment, several changes in the brain were observed. Other beneficial factors noted were skin conductivity, improved glucose regulation, supported immune function, reduced stress and moderate heart rate variability.
An experiment supporting this claim was also published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. The experiment postulated that walking barefooted can result in the increase of the surface charge of red blood cells. This in turn causes the red blood cells to avoid clumping which may lead to a decrease in blood viscosity. The benefits associated with going barefooted every once in a while cannot be over emphasized and new works are emerging to prove this effect.
Why having Cold Feet might mean you have Poor Circulation in your Brain
Cold temperatures are probably the most common causes of cold feet. When you are in a low temperature, the body works internally to keep you warm. It shrinks blood vessels from your body ends like your feet, nose, ears and toes. This limits blood circulation to these parts and centralizes them to the core of your body in order to keep your organs warm. This makes your body end parts cold due to reduced blood circulation, and it is a pretty normal occurrence.
What you want to be wary of or watch out for are situations where you live a sedentary lifestyle that restricts regular movement. This also leads to reduced blood circulation to your feet and toes. There are also situations where it happens unprovoked. This may mean there is poor brain or cerebral circulation.
Poor cerebral circulation can lead to stroke, cerebral hemorrhage, cerebral hypoxia and cerebral edema. Having cold feet may just be the indicator for you to go for a proper checkup and address the issue with your health practitioner.
Can I teach myself to be more dexterous with my feet
Knowing that foot dexterity can improve your brain you might be thinking how you can improve your feet’s dexterity
If you are looking to improve your foot dexterity a good way to start is to play with your toes and flex up and down as if you were playing a piano. I tend to this first thing in the morning as I’m getting ready to get out of bed and also when I get out of the shower. I believe that this will promote healthy blood flow to my toes.
The next best thing to do is to try and stay barefoot as much as possible. This means trying not to wear socks while around the house, but if it is pretty cold you could try wearing those finger socks so that each toe is covered. This will make you conscious of each toe. You could also consider walking around the block barefoot as well, just be sure to look out for any stray stones of glass that might be on the pavement.
Exercise: Yoga / Gym
Doing yoga is another great way to improve your foots dexterity due to the balance required to hold certain positions.
You might also consider doing your workouts at the gym barefoot as well, granted the gym you have joined allows this
The next time you see an individual painting, drawing or doing some chores with his feet (toes), it is because he has dexterous feet. There is no magic to it; you either have it or you don’t. And to answer the question I asked at the beginning: Yes, foot dexterity is good for the brain.