The Research Behind "Earthing" & How To Reap Its Potential Benefits
Ever visit a park and get the sudden urge to flip off your shoes and dig your feet in the grass? Well, that feeling of the ground between your toes may actually come with health benefits. Earthing—also known as grounding—is the practice of walking or standing with the earth barefoot in order to connect to its innately healing energies, and it's probably one of the most enjoyable and intuitive wellness practices out there.
Does earthing really have health benefits?
"Every day when I walk my dog, I make sure to take a few moments to put my bare feet on the grass," one mbg community member writes in a piece about connecting to nature during quarantine. "This instant connection to earth has been a new savor and has shifted my entire outlook on life. I feel more balanced, present, and grateful for my well-being."
It checks out that physically touching the earth would have this effect. Humans and nature co-evolved together, after all, so getting outside can feel like a coming home. But does it come with any more scientific health benefits?
Clint Ober, one of the leaders of the grounding movement, will tell you absolutely. His company, Ultimate Longevity, is behind most of the research on how connecting with the Earth's energy (we're talking literal energy—as in its electromagnetic field) could help balance us out.
"The Earth's surface is negatively charged with free electrons—meaning that the Earth has an abundance of free (negatively charged) electrons that travel and rapidly reduce positive charge," Ober tells mbg. "Example: When standing barefoot on the earth, the body absorbs these free electrons and equalizes to the earth's negative charge."
In support of this idea, Ober points to over 20 peer-reviewed studies that found that earthing can ease pain and inflammation1, boost mood2, lower blood pressure3, and increase the surface charge on red blood cells, thereby reducing blood viscosity and clumping, which is associated with cardiovascular risk. And funnily enough, none of these studies were actually conducted outside. Instead, participants and placebo groups both stood on mats or slept on mattress pads, some of which were electrically charged to simulate the conditions that one would find outdoors. Full disclosure: Ober's company sells these products, too, so while these results are compelling, more research needs to be done to verify them.
"The consensus is that it's not curative," board-certified neurologist Ilene Ruhoy, M.D., Ph.D., says of the medical world's view of earthing, "but can be recommended within an integrative plan for mostly preventive but also therapeutic, health management. Most research is done within the alternative medical world and is not regularly discussed among traditional doctors."
She adds that electrical medicine in general is intriguing, though, and human cell structures have been likened to battery packs due to their ability to conduct electrical currents.
3 Earthing methods to try.
Whether it's physical or simply spiritual, there's certainly some kind of energy exchange that happens when our feet touch down on solid ground. Here are some strategies for practicing earthing no matter where you live:
1. Stand barefoot in a natural landscape near you.
"All one needs is access to a small patch of earth," says Ruhoy. "That can be in a park, on a trail, by a body of water." She adds that buying a patch of soil to put indoors or on a patio will not be effective, and she doesn't endorse electrical earthing mats, either: "Plugging into an outlet just cannot take the place of our connection to the earth."
As for how long you need to stand outside to reap any restorative benefits, Ober says 30 minutes at a time should be enough to start to ease pain, tension, and stress.
2. If you have the space, walk barefoot outdoors (safely!).
Functional medicine doctor Isaac Eliaz, M.D., M.S., L.A., is also a proponent of earthing, but he prefers to do it on the move. "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," he wrote on mbg back in 2013. "However, you should always be aware of your surroundings and make sure it's safe for you to walk barefoot (i.e., the terrain isn't sharp or has the potential to injure your feet). If you're wondering whether walking barefoot is the right move for you, it's always best to consult your primary doctor before hitting the grass."
3. Make it mindful.
"Make a little note before you ground listing your pain levels, describing any aches or pains and how you feel. Notice any stress, anxiety, anger, or tension in your body," Ober says of how to add another layer to your earthing practice. "Then compare the change after grounding."
The stress-reducing benefits of getting outside (sans shoes or not) are enough to make anyone want to back away from their screens and head into nature. So whether it's hiking boots or bare feet you're donning, you're sure to enjoy the journey.
Editor's Note (June 23, 2022): This article was originally published on May 01, 2020. A previous version of this article indicated that research suggests that grounding lessens cardiovascular risk. We have since clarified this to indicate that research suggests that grounding 'increases the surface charge on red blood cells and thereby reduces blood viscosity and clumping.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.