The Big Idea
Not going to lie… I thought that this was a bit of a ‘filler’ when Dr Iain first suggested it. Sure walking barefoot on the grass at a picnic or getting sand between your toes on the beach on holiday feels nice – but to suggest that it is scientifically evidenced to reduce inflammation and pain in as little as 30 seconds? Or that injuries heal faster after a regular bout of walking barefoot in the park? Or that our metabolic activity is changed to such an extent after 40 minutes of having our feet on the ground with our shoes off, that there may be anti-ageing benefits or that it may help prevent and treat some chronic illnesses? Really?!
Well yes, apparently it just might!
We have already talked in some of our previous blogs about why people who live in green spaces and connect with nature more often are shown on average to have better mental and physical health than those who do not. So, it makes sense that barefoot in the park might just be an extension to that?
But it seems there is more to it than that – and it is all to do with the subtle electric charge of the earth itself. Some of the science below might blow you mind a bit but to use use the technical term ‘grounding’ really does seem to be a habit worth getting into.
Do a quick internet search on ‘grounding’ and you will find many advocates who suggest that as well as connecting you with nature and your surroundings and making your more mindful of your walking, it also reduces inflammation, pain, improves sleep, treating autoimmune conditions, improved wound healing… Again there are some small supportive studies on to show that they might be onto something
So given this growing body of evidence that something so simple could do us the power of good, why aren’t we all doing it? Well one reason might be the small research studies so far. Imagine how much money a large and robust study would cost…And now imagine who might invest in that kind of funding?!
The beauty of this tip may also be the reason it hasn’t been taken so seriously so far, research wise – for most of us this is a absolutely free tip – and this means there is no money in it for say drug companies…
We are inclined to believe that the charge issue is combined with other factors like reflexology – such as when we looked at in #Tip20 ‘Roll with it’. Shoe brand Vivobarefoot really advocate that modern shoes, especially cushioned trainers, lead to the separation of our feet from what they are meant to do. Dr Iain has some of these shoes and you definitely notice your environment more.
The assertion here is that when we use our feet we are being more fully ourselves – connecting to objects in balance and / or in motion are generally enjoyable, despite being challenging, such as surfing and slacklining. This stimulates our bodies sense of balance – we are beings that are constantly holding ourselves in tension – all too often this is even more limited now with so much screen time.
There is an African proverb here about how the white man divorced himself from the Earth by wearing shoes. Dr Iain has mentioned to us already that he spent much of his early years in South Africa without wearing shoes. Maybe that is one of the reasons he is the most “grounded” individual we know!
And with Christmas coming up, look out for another cultural link in the first Die Hard film, when a fellow passenger tells John MacClane (Bruce Willis) to take his shoes off and scrunch his feet on the carpet to help him with post-travel tiredness.
So, after reading all this are you convinced it is worth a go? Read on for more science – or if you are minded to, just take your shoes off whilst you hang out the washing or walk the last bit home – (we were surprised to find that walking on concrete counts too!)
Got it…What’s the Science
It is important to note that many of the studies done on grounding are small and usually done indoors – which sounds a bit weird given that the benefits come from a connection with the Earth! However, researchers tend to use wires to attach individuals that connect to ground outlets. This is partly because any clinical trial needs to have a placebo effect – obviously someone would know the difference if they were asked to walk outdoors barefoot or outdoors in trainers. Thus using wires means that participants in any trial will not know if the wires they are attached to are grounded or not.
However, despite the small scale or the research, the results are pretty impressive and do stand up!
Many people remember some of the basic science that is behind what might be going on – everything in the world is made of atoms. Atoms are made up of positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons (that come as a pair). So atoms are neutral – the positive protons and negative electrons cancel each other out. (Atoms are also made up of Neutrons but they have no charge and atoms are also made up of smaller components called quarks – but that’s a bit too much for here).
Sometimes atoms can lose an electron – and you may have heard of the result of these unpaired electrons, even if you didn’t really know what they were – they become “free radicals”. Free radicals are not a throw back band from the 90s. Free radicals adversely alter the lipids, proteins, and DNA that make up our cells and organs and so trigger a number of human diseases and conditions. We naturally make free radicals in our bodies, usually oxygen or nitrogen reactive compounds, but a number of factors means that we can make more, such as when we are stressed or exposed to chemicals or certain disease (pathological) states.
You might have already heard of neutralising free radicals and how antioxidants in fruit and vegetables can neutralise “the baddies”? A balance between free radicals and antioxidants is necessary for proper physiological function of our bodies. The Earth’s surface is negatively charged and therefore is constantly generating electrons that can pair with our unpaired ones. At a simple level it would appear that the unpaired electrons that are on the Earth’s surface can have a very similar effect. The free Earth electrons partner with our “free radicals” and make them less dangerous for us. We change our overall electrical charge by interacting (taking on) electrons from the Earth.
Also, there are some that feel that we are bombarded by other electromagnetic fields from devices and that grounding helps restores this balance too.
The idea is of ‘taking on’ electrons neutralises excessive positively charged components of our bodies cells and intracellular biology. As we can change charge quickly when earthing this is the assumption that this is happening – rather than just a change in conductance at the skin level.
You might have seen a similar science in play elsewhere. The use of negative ions in air purifiers for example, work in part by latching onto dust particles but the idea of negative ions, like those associated with the beach (ozone) – are reported as being good for us and have been associated with improved mood too.
Grounding also has been linked to regulating our automatic nervous system and keeping our circadian rhythms in sync – and you know how much we love our circadian rhythms on The 52Project! Grounding and the mechanical stimulation of walking on the ground, is known to stimulate the vagus nerve which we have met in some of our previous tips like #Tip1 Cold Showers (and the diving reflex) and #Tip5 And Breathe! So grounding seems to improve vagal tone (the neurological ‘calming’ tone) which helps you to relax faster during and after stressful events. By contrast a weak vagal tone is associated with chronic inflammation which can lead to heart disease and cancer.
In one study just a single grounding session lasting two hours reduced inflammation and improved blood flow. In another, grounding was shown to improve the resilience to stress for premature babies who were incubated – decreasing their risk of dying.
So all in all not bad for just taking your shoes and socks off and standing on the ground.
Watch our #Tip39 on the Instagram Live Recording….
Could walking barefoot on grass improve your health? Some research suggests it can. – Washington Post Article, July 2018
The Earthing Movie: The Remarkable Science of Grounding (full documentary)
This tip stacks fantastically with #Tip20 Roll with it where we talked about the benefits of massaging the foot with a ball. There are certain trainers that you can buy that our personal trainer Hedge Haigh certainly recommends because they give you closer contact with the earth.
We also know that being out in nature and connecting with it has definite and proven health benefits which we covered in #Tip11 Small Moments Matter, #Tip14 Plant Power and #Tip15 Be Smelly!
So on the basis of the science so far, it certainly shouldn’t do any harm to go barefoot whilst you are mindfully interacting with nature – and it looks like it might do an awful lot of good. Just be aware of slugs, snails and any animal mess….
We’d love you guys to test it for us – but for now, we are going to have a play and see if integrating this habit into the everyday – such as putting the washing out to dry barefoot, or doing a bit of light weeding with our shoes off helps us feel less stressed and helps with any aches and pains has any effect. The science suggests that it should – and certainly if we don’t tred on anything sharp or unpleasant there are no side effects to worry about!
We’d love to hear from you if you try it too!
Tales from our Test Partners
Watch this space…
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