Body & Soul: Getting Down to Earth
Advocates say that walking barefoot outdoors—a practice called grounding—is a key to better health.
We’ve all felt it: that moment when we get zapped by touching someone or something, often while walking on carpet. During those zaps, our bodies are discharging electrons, a phenomenon known as grounding. And as weird as it sounds, it just may be good for you.
Proponents and some researchers say the practice, also known as earthing, can prevent or mitigate disease. But you don’t have to shuffle your feet on carpet to achieve the desired effect. Grounding can be accomplished by walking barefoot outside, whether in the grass or along the beach. You can also use a grounding mat, an electrical pad that covers your mattress, so your body can painlessly discharge electrons while you sleep.
Valencia College physics professor Dr. Ivan Padron and his colleague, biology professor Dr. Ricardo Silva, are so intrigued by the purported health benefits of grounding that they are considering launching a study into it.
“Think about electrical equipment. It’s required to be connected to the grounding. Why? If it’s connected to the grounding, it’s not going to damage the equipment,” Padron explains. “Think of the body as electrical equipment. Everything in our body is an electrochemical process.
“Suppose you have extra positive charges coming from your body”—a process Padron says can result in disease-causing free radicals. “If we’re connected to the grounding, that will dissipate and disappear. If we’re not connected to the grounding, that’s going into other parts of our body,” he says. “If the charge goes into a liver cell, it will contaminate the liver cell.”
Silva says previous research— which points to such health benefits as reduced cortisol levels and inflammation, less stress, and improved sleep and pain reduction—is encouraging but not definitive. “[Grounding] is reducing the buildup of electrical charges. Whether it’s improving your health, I would be cautious and say even though the prior results are encouraging, we would need to increase the number of people in a well-planned trial.”
University of Central Florida physics professor Dr. Suren Tatulian questions whether the health benefits touted in research are “a direct effect of earthing and electron flow or a placebo effect.” For Floridians interested in grounding, he says, “walking barefoot may be associated with certain dangers, such as poisonous insects or little sharp objects. One can do grounding by touching the walls, for example, which is safer and easier.”
Padron and his wife, Elisandra, began sleeping with a grounding mat four years ago after Padron learned about grounding. “My family has a history of heart attacks,” which Padron says can be caused by faulty electrical signals to the heart. “A lot of people die from heart attacks. But I think if I can be connected most of the time with grounding, probably I can survive a heart attack.”
It was survival instructor and barefoot actor Cody Lundin of Discovery Channel’s Dual Survival who inspired Mark Stewart of Mims to begin grounding, an unusual decision for Stewart considering he suffered a debilitating foot injury as a 12-year-old. “Ever since I started walking barefoot and creating that circuit with the Earth, I’ve had a huge improvement in movement and circulation,” he says. “We are electrical beings. I’m no scientist, but I know it makes me feel better.”