Kick Off Your Shoes: The Surprising MD-Approved Benefits Of Walking Barefoot
Walking barefoot, also known as "earthing," has gone from being a kooky and playful trend, to a scientifically-researched practice with a number of remarkable health advantages, such as increasing antioxidants, reducing inflammation, and improving sleep. Here, we break down the science-backed benefits.
First, what is earthing?
"Earthing" means walking barefoot on soil, grass, or sand (i.e. any natural surface). So, in order to reap the aforementioned benefits, you might 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 earth1. The planet has its own natural charge, and we seem to do better when we’re in direct contact with it.
The benefits of walking 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 pain1.
Another study found that earthing changed the electrical activity in the brain2, as measured by electroencephalograms. Still other research found that grounding benefitted skin conductivity, moderated heart rate variability, improved glucose regulation, reduced stress and supported immune function3.
One particularly compelling investigation, published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that earthing increases the surface charge of red blood cells4. As a result, the cells avoid clumping, which can decrease 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 systems3.
Besides being barefoot, walking in nature has its own benefits.
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 health5, and help with weight management6. In addition, being in nature has shown to be beneficial for our well-being7, as we know it has significant effects for relieve 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 can miss out on many of the mental health benefits that are shown to increase when we spend time in nature.
Walking can also creates physical and emotional rhythms. Unlike running, which can be rushed and high impact, walking is gentle, nourishing, and can give us space. We have an opportunity to emotionally connect and work through the day’s events. In addition, even a light stroll can release endorphins8.
Ultimately, walking can become more than just exercise; it can become a form of healing, removing our stress and replacing it with well-being on a physical and mental level.
Bottom line: Should we start walking barefoot?
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.
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.
Overall, it might be worth it to kick your shoes off once in a while. On an evolutionary level, it 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 of course.
Isaac Eliaz, M.D., M.S., LAc is a respected author, lecturer, researcher, and clinical practitioner. He is the founder and medical director of Amitabha Medical Clinic in Santa Rosa, California. He received his M.D. from Sackler Medical School in Tel Aviv University, Israel and his M.S. in Traditional Chinese Medicine from the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
He has been a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine since the early 1980s and has been treating cancer and chronically ill patients using his holistic, integrative and highly personal form of healing for over 25 years.