Remember the guy in college who went barefoot everywhere? He may have seemed eccentric, but it turns out he was on to something.
Walking barefoot, also known as "earthing," has gone from being a kooky counter-culture trend, to a scientifically-researched practice with a number of remarkable health advantages, such as increasing antioxidants, reducing inflammation, and improving sleep.
Earthing means walking barefoot on soil, grass or sand (meaning: any natural surface). So we’ll have to get off the sidewalk. Early studies are showing that the health benefits come from the relationship between our bodies and the electrons in the earth. The planet has its own natural charge, and we seem to do better when we’re in direct contact with it.
Why should you walk barefoot?
A review published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health looked at a number of studies that highlight how drawing electrons from the earth improves health. In one, chronic pain patients using grounded carbon fiber mattresses slept better and experienced less pain.
Another study found that earthing changed the electrical activity in the brain, as measured by electroencephalograms. Still other research found that grounding benefitted skin conductivity, moderated heart rate variability, improved glucose regulation, reduced stress and boosted immunity.
One particularly compelling investigation, published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that earthing increases the surface charge of red blood cells. As a result, the cells avoid clumping, which decreases blood viscosity. High viscosity is a significant factor in heart disease, which is why so many people take blood thinning aspirin each day to improve their heart health. Another study in the same journal found that earthing may help regulate both the endocrine and nervous systems.
OK, I'm sold. What's next?
Even if there were no proven benefits to walking barefoot, I'd still recommend taking frequent walks in nature. Regular walking, as little as half an hour a day, can reduce cancer risk, improve cardiovascular health, moderate weight and prevent diabetes. In addition, walking improves blood oxygenation, circulation, and immune response, removes toxins, and relieves stress.
True, we can get many of these exercise benefits by using an indoor treadmill at the local gym. But without being outdoors in a natural environment, we miss out on many of the mental health benefits that are proven to increase when we spend time in nature.
For one thing, even if we enjoy it, going to the gym tends to be a chore. It’s just something we have to cross off our list. On the other hand, walking in nature is about being in the moment, rather than trying to achieve something. Even more importantly, we are surrounded by fresh oxygen-rich air and beautiful scenery, rather than gym smell and flatscreen TVs. And there’s no membership fee.
Walking also creates physical and emotional rhythms. Unlike running, which is by definition rushed and high impact, walking is gentle, nourishing and gives us space. We have an opportunity to work through the day’s events. In addition, even a light stroll releases endorphins. Most importantly, we breathe deeply.
As we walk, our breathing starts to synchronize with our motion. We experience a sense of expansion and freedom. Ultimately, walking becomes more than just exercise; it becomes a form of healing, removing our stress and replacing it with wellbeing on every level.
I think we would be hard-pressed to find a better win-win situation. By walking, we exercise our muscles and cardiovascular system, improve our mental health, reduce stress and support our overall wellness. Simply taking our shoes off seems to multiply those benefits by allowing us to synchronize with the earth’s natural electric charge. On an evolutionary level, this all makes complete sense. We evolved close to the earth, and it’s only relatively recently that we have been so keen to remove ourselves from nature.
Perhaps it’s time to take a step back, barefooted.