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Walking Barefoot Outdoors May Ease Everything from Chronic Pain to Sleeplessness — The Best Way to Do It

Dial down inflammation the easy way by earthing


Remember how invincible you felt spending childhood summers walking barefoot outdoors, somersaulting down hills and splashing through sprinklers? Experts say there’s a scientific reason for that: Direct skin contact with the Earth — a practice called earthing, or grounding — enhances health in profound ways. When skin touches the earth, it absorbs earth’s free electrons, which neutralize harmful free radicals in the body. But our habitual lack of contact with the earth allows free radicals to go unchecked, causing body-wide inflammation that triggers fatigue, pain, and more.

“Our bodies are governed by electrical charges, even more than chemicals and hormones,” explains physicist Gaétan Chevalier, Ph.D., a leading researcher in the field of earthing and director of the Earthing Institute.  “We need free electrons just like we need other nutrients. They’re an insurance policy against inflammation. Indeed, studies show 20 to 30 minutes of Earthing cuts inflammation markers. In another study, people reported significant improvements in chronic pain and sleep after practicing grounding. Here, discover three ways to reap the benefits.

Walk barefoot outdoors first thing in the morning.

Bare feet are the best conductors of electrons, since the particles enter through the ball of the foot and run up to the base of the skull. And according to Chevalier, early morning and evening are optimal times to go barefoot outdoors and practice earthing. “Surface electron levels tend to be higher when the sun isn’t directly overhead,” Chevalier says. “And electrons enter the body more readily from dewy grass than dry grass due to the conductive minerals dissolved in ground condensation.” To get the perks, wiggle your toes in the lawn while enjoying an alfresco breakfast.

Want to turbocharge benefits? Hug a tree!

There are countless perks to relaxing in nature, but when you get close to a tree, the benefits increase: Spending time around trees lowers stress hormones and reduces blood pressure, according to a study in the journal Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine. Earthing is a likely factor: “Trees are alive themselves; unlike conductors such as rocks, they actually retain deep reservoirs of charge that transfer freely through touch,” Dr. Koniver explains. Even seconds of direct physical contact — using any body part — imparts benefits. “Sometimes on busy days I’ll just brush my hand against a trunk as I pass by,” she says. “Just as a brief workout can help with calorie balance, a short grounding session can improve electrical balance — and make a meaningful difference to your health.

Stuck inside? Pad around the basement in soft sole shoes

When a rainy day keeps you indoors, consider trading your tennies for shoes with soft leather soles, like the Kilty Softsole moccasin (Buy from Minnetonka Moccasin, $80). The reason? Synthetic materials like neoprene, typically found in sneakers, are insulating, and don’t conduct charged particles, but pliable leather conducts nearly as well as our skin. (Thicker rigid leather soles, such as those on dress shoes, conduct to a lesser extent.) And while electrons won’t pass through most interior flooring materials such as vinyl or wood, Laura Koniver, M.D., author of The Earth Prescription, says you’ll be grounded anytime you tread on untreated stone or concrete flooring — say, in your basement or garage — or outdoors on sidewalks and stone paths (in addition to grass, sand, and dirt).

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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