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If I were to quiz you on good sources of antioxidants, you might start rattling off things like blueberries, green tea, dark chocolate and kale, but how about “walking barefoot?” That’s right, in a practice called “grounding,” research is beginning to show possible health benefits of walking barefoot in the grass. Is this just a placebo effect from spending more time outdoors? Or is there something real about connecting with the Earth’s subtle electrical field? Let’s explore.

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Let’s Start with Free Radicals

Alright, we’re starting all the way back in high school science class. The classroom is warm, the teacher is droning on and the whir of a projector is lulling you to sleep. As you may (or may not) remember, humans are made up of atoms. Atoms, in turn, are made up of protons, neutrons (sometimes) and electrons. Protons, which have a positive charge, make up the center of the atom, like the center of our solar system. Electrons, which have a negative charge, orbit the protons, like planets orbiting the sun. Since protons and electrons have opposite charges, they attract to one another, and in equal numbers, happily go about their peaceful orbit.

However, sometimes one of those peaceful electrons can get “knocked out” of orbit, and when that happens the atom is no longer balanced. It scavenges the body looking for another electron to put back into its system, so that it can once again become balanced. (Remember, an atom wants an equal number of protons to electrons.)

These scavenging atoms are called “free radicals” and while they only live for a fraction of a second, can wreak havoc on our DNA. Research shows that free radicals can damage cells leading to chronic inflammation, cancer and other diseases.

What Does Grounding Have to Do With Free Radicals?

So what does this have to do with walking barefoot? The earth’s surface has a negative charge to it, which means it has “extra” electrons. The theory goes that coming into direct contact with the earth can help neutralize free radicals in our bodies, by giving those free radicals the extra electrons they need to become stable again. In short, the earth is our biggest antioxidant, and can give us the benefits of antioxidants—better wellbeing.

Some researchers say that our lifestyles, including wearing heavy-soled shoes, working indoors and commuting preferences have made an impact on our ability to neutralize our bodies via earth-body connections. They say this may be playing a role in our increased levels of chronic illness in Americans.

As one researcher put it, “Modern lifestyle has increasingly separated humans from the primordial flow of Earth’s electrons. For example, since the 1960s, we have increasingly worn insulating rubber or plastic soled shoes, instead of the traditional leather fashioned from hides…Obviously, we no longer sleep on the ground as we did in times past.”

Scientific Research on the Health Benefits of Grounding

There are a few studies that have looked at “grounding,” and its effects on humans. One study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that grounding reduces blood viscosity—a major culprit in cardiovascular disease. As the study author writes, “Grounding appears to be one of the simplest and yet most profound interventions for helping reduce cardiovascular risk and cardiovascular events.” While this is certainly promising, the study was small, including only 10 people, so more research should be done regarding cardiovascular improvements of grounding.

So, besides potential heart-health benefits, what else can grounding do? According to the Journal of Inflammation Research, the effects of spending time in contact with the earth are remarkable, including:

  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced pain
  • Reduced stress
  • Increased heart rate variability
  • Faster wound healing
  • Reduced blood viscosity

As the study puts it, spending time grounding to the earth is literally like re-charging our body’s batteries, contributing to overall reduction in stress responses and inflammation.

While these studies and a handful of others all support the benefits of grounding, critics are quick to say that these studies are too small to make any definitive statements about its use in the medical world. While I agree that more research is needed, I’ll take any excuse to get back outside and spend more time reading in the grass.

How to Try Grounding for Yourself

While there are no official recommendations for how long you should “ground” to the earth each day, some people report feeling better after just 20 minutes of walking in the grass. Here are a few more tips to try it for yourself:

  • Feel free to sit on a blanket. Fabric like wool, nylon and cotton are conductive, so they won’t disrupt the charge between you and the ground.
  • Can’t find a green space? Concrete is conductive as long as it’s not painted or sealed. Also avoid wood, vinyl, plastic or asphalt as these are insulating materials.
  • Go for a swim: Take a dip in rivers, lakes or the ocean for a recharging experience. (Sorry, pools don’t count.)
  • Try an Earthing Mat or Sheet (maybe): There is almost no scientific research on the validity of an earthing mat; however, many personal testimonials hype their efficacy. What is it? Basically, it’s a mat that plugs into a grounded outlet, transferring energy from the ground up through to the mat, even if you’re working at a desk 12 floors up.

Think you’ll try grounding? Have you had any experience with grounding? Let us know! And if you want more science-based health and wellness tips, follow us on social media at facebook and Instagram.

Have you ever thought about going for a walk and then said to yourself, “why even bother? Will it even make a difference?” This happens to me most often when I’m sick or have an injury and can’t do my normal biking, running or lifting. There’s this imaginary Jillian Michaels in my head saying, “If you don’t break a sweat, it doesn’t count as a workout!”

Well fake Jillian, turns out walking is one of the best exercises that offer some of the same – if not greater – health benefits than other forms of exercise. It’s a serious underdog when it comes to providing a full-body workout with some added mental benefits. Let’s dig into the research!

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8 Mental and Physical Benefits of Walking, According to Science

1.       Decrease Your Sensitivity to Stress and Pain

Ever heard of a runner’s high? Well, walker’s can get those too. Walking can release endorphins, which are responsible for making you “feel good.” According to research, endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain. With high endorphin levels, we feel less pain and fewer negative effects of stress. Does this mean I should go for a walk before going to the dentist? Probably.

2.       Increase Your Ability to Recall Information

Want to make sure you remember something? Go for a 10-minute walk. A study of 80 college students tested whether or not a brief bout of physical activity could help with memory performance. Students studied 30 English nouns and were then asked to remain seated or take a brisk, 10-minute walk. The study showed that those who walked and were asked to recall the nouns, performed 25% better than those in sedentary conditions. (Wish I had known this hack back in college…)

3.       Grow Your Hippocampus

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that adults who walked for 40 minutes three times a week for a year had brain growth in the hippocampus. Want to know what happened to the control group who did stretching and toning? Their brains actually shrunk! The hippocampus plays a critical role in the formation, organization, and storage of new memories as well as connecting certain sensations and emotions to these memories.[1] That’s why a certain smell can trigger a memory, or how you can remember people’s names and the last conversation you had—it’s all a part of the hippocampus’ job.

Scientists believe that walking helps our hippocampus create new neurons, resulting in better recall and cognitive functioning. This could all have resulted from our evolutionary need to remember where food was, what route we took, and where predators were. Even though we hopefully don’t have to deal with remembering where predators lurk today, a walking habit can make our brains stay sharp.

4.       Be More Creative

There’s a reason why Beethoven and Charles Dickens were known for taking long walks—it can help inspire creative thinking. Walking not only increases blood flow to the brain, bringing along with it more oxygen and nutrients but it also helps us with divergent thinking, a thought process critical to brainstorming. Divergent thinking helps us come up with multiple solutions to a problem, often needed when trying to “think outside the box.” According to one study, “walking opens up the free flow of ideas and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.” Talk about a double-whammy! 

5.       Make Your Heart Healthier

Walking is an excellent aerobic activity that can improve your heart health. As reported by Harvard Health, researchers found that walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31% and cut the risk of dying by 32%. These benefits were equally robust in men and women. Protection was evident even at distances of just 5½ miles per week and at a pace as casual as about 2 miles per hour. The people who walked longer distances, walked at a faster pace, or both enjoyed the greatest protection, so pick up the pace when you can!

6.       Relieve Anxiety in 10 Minutes

Psychologists found that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout when it comes to relieving the symptoms of anxiety.[2] This can have lasting effects on our ability to manage stress and the “worn-out” feeling that comes with it. A 2008 study conducted at the University of Georgia found that just twenty minutes of low-intensity exercise, like walking, can dramatically decrease fatigue. In short, a quick walk can actually make you feel more alert and relaxed at the same time. It’s the Matcha Tea of the exercise world.

7.       Boost Immune Function

According to Harvard Health Publishing, a study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder. You know what they should say … a walk a day keeps the doctor away.

8.       Reduce a Sweet Tooth

A pair of studies from the University of Exeter found that a 15-minute walk can curb cravings for chocolate, and reduce the relationship between stress and wanting to eat. Walking can not only help us take our mind off the thing we’re craving, but it can help re-wire that call-and-response signal between stress and sugar.

Tips to Get Your Steps in Anywhere

According to the Mayo Clinic, the average American walks 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day, or roughly 1.5 to 2 miles. Compare that to the fact that health professionals urge us to walk at least 10,000 steps per day. Before throwing in the towel altogether, it’s important to remember that just moving in any way possible, for any amount of time is key. A new study shows that teenagers are getting less exercise than the average 60-year old—our lives are becoming more sedentary and we need to work hard to get moving. Here are a few quick tips and small reminders to sneak in more steps, anywhere.

  • Park as far away as possible from your destination. Bring shoes you can walk in and change once you’re inside.
  • Take the stairs (yes, we’ve heard this one a million times but it makes a difference).
  • Set a timer to get up from your desk every 30 minutes for a small loop around the office.
  • Walk to the grocery store, drug store, you name it. Invest in a backpack or this adorable market cart to make carrying things easier.
  • Get a dog. Seriously. According to this new study, dog owners walk 22 more minutes per day than non-dog owners! The furry cuddles are a bonus.
  • Try having a walking meeting. Bring a small notebook to jot down notes or use your smartphone to record audio notes.
  • March in place while watching TV—extra points for jumping jacks.
  • Take extra trips from the car to your house. I know it’s a quest of glory to try and bring in your latest Target run in one trip, but save your back and nab a few extra steps by bringing things in one. bag. at. a. Time.

Hopefully, all of this information proves that walking is NO joke, and even squeezing in 10 minutes here and there can make a big difference in your health and wellness. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some walking to do.

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[1] https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-hippocampus-2795231

[2] https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety