Stand Outside Barefoot for Better Health? ‘I Feel Like an Oddball, But if It Works, It Works.’ | Kanebridge News
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Stand Outside Barefoot for Better Health? ‘I Feel Like an Oddball, But if It Works, It Works.’

Pilots, pro athletes and others try ’grounding’—though don’t step on a bee. ‘I said a couple of bad words to myself.’

By ALEX JANIN
Wed, Aug 16, 2023 8:18amGrey Clock 4 min

When Sara Jean Meyer got a text from her mom that said, “I have a surprise for you,” she assumed it would be a free bubble tea. Instead, her mother showed up with a roll of foil tape, a long copper pipe, an electrical wire and a rod clamp.

They were all supplies required to “ground” Meyer’s bed. Grounding is what proponents call the process of connecting to the earth’s natural electric charge, often by physically touching it or connecting to the grounding system built into most U.S. homes.

The wellness practice is gaining, well, ground, among alternative-health fans, who claim it cures headaches, helps them sleep and reduces inflammation. Some go basic by simply standing barefoot in their yards. Others try more complicated, do-it-yourself approaches to maximise time spent grounding—even while indoors.

Luis Rios, a pilot based in Los Angeles, says grounding, also known as earthing, helps ease joint pain in his knees after long flights. He mostly does it outdoors, with his feet touching the ground, though it can be difficult to find places to hike or stand barefoot at travel destinations.

During a recent trip to Savannah, Ga., he stood in a park across from a stretch of restaurants and businesses on a tree with an exposed root while two tour buses drove by. “I felt like I was kind of like the main attraction, they were looking at me like, ‘What is this guy doing?’” says Rios, 58. “I feel like an oddball, but if it works, it works.”

Grounding merchandise proliferates, and in July 2023, TikTok searches for the hashtags #grounding, which has 529 million views, and #earthing, which has 163 million views, reached peak popularity from the previous three years. Some pro athletes dig grounding: Baseball player Spencer Turnbull said in a 2021 MLB talk-show interview that the practice helps him get loose, focused and “just kinda wakes me up.”

Karamvir Bhatti, 30, a model and freelance graphic designer in New York, purchased a $30 earthing mat which arrived with a cable to plug into the bottom hole of any three-pronged outlet. The bottom or grounding hole connects to a wire that runs into a service panel that connects to the ground. These wires are installed around most newer buildings to prevent electric surges.

In the U.K., a couple created a “grounded” running shoe, manufactured with conductive materials such as silver fiber webbing, that has sold thousands of pairs since the company, Bahé, launched last year, says director of operations Nikki Ward.

Earthing researchers—some of whom have connections to companies that sell products such as yoga mats and bedsheets—say the habit can reduce oxidative stress, a condition linked to various conditions. It does so, they contend, by dissipating static electricity buildup in the body and syncing with the earth’s natural negative electric charge.

“We surmise, but don’t have direct research, that earthing will help slow the aging process,” says Gaetan Chevalier, director of the nonprofit Earthing Institute, which funds research and education about earthing and grounding.

Most traditional doctors and scientists say the benefits of grounding aren’t grounded in evidence. Dozens of studies have popped up on the subject, but many have limitations including small sample sizes, self-reported or subjective outcomes and conflicts of interest.

“At the most basic physics level, a fifth-grader should be able to debunk this,” says Dr. Steven Novella, a neurologist at the Yale School of Medicine and editor of the website Science-Based Medicine.

Like many adopters of earthing—sometimes dubbed “earthers”—who hope the practice will relieve chronic pain, Meyer hoped her husband would find some relief from rheumatoid arthritis when she tried grounding a bed.

She laid out a grid of the tin tape on the mattress pad, popped out her bedroom window screen to run the wire through it, hammered the copper rod into the ground outside and attached the stripped wire to the clamp.

“It’s a little crazy. I was curious what my neighbours might think if they see us out there pounding a hole into the ground,” says Meyer,35, a stay-at-home mom in Cottage Grove, Minn. “I just kept telling myself, if it works, great, and if it doesn’t, we tried.”

Grounding the bed didn’t dissipate her husband’s pain, she says, but they both generally slept better despite some poking and prodding from the metallic tape. Eventually, she ordered two earthing mats from Amazon to replace the homespun system.

Many earthers concede the placebo effect could be at play in health improvements they experience. Stress reduction as a result of spending more time away from screens, or meditating, as some earthers do outside or on earthing mats, can have benefits, doctors say.

And connection to nature likely accounts for some benefits people say they experience after earthing outdoors, says Dr. Brent Bauer, who directs Mayo Clinic’s Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program.

Despite a lack of solid scientific evidence, even skeptics largely concede: What is the risk in trying?

(Not zero. Websites that sell grounding products that plug into wall outlets warn users to disconnect their devices during lightning and thunderstorms to protect against electrical surges.)

“I was just like, these are trees. What are they going to do?” Bhatti, the New York City-based model, wondered before she tried earthing the first time. For outdoor earthing, she sits under trees barefoot.

She started taking the train upstate for monthly nature getaways during the pandemic. On one trip, she kicked off her shoes, sat on the ground, and immediately felt calmer.

“I just thought, OK, if this is hippie-dippie, if this is weird, it’s free and I’m not hurting anyone,” she says.

Not everybody earths unscathed.

Thomas Ichim, 47, chief executive of a psychiatry biotechnology company in San Diego, Calif., walks 10,000 barefoot steps almost every day as part of his earthing routine. He has built up some calluses—but they weren’t enough to protect him one day last month. About halfway through, just as he started to feel the earthing “energy,” he says, he stepped on a bee. “I said a couple of bad words to myself.”

Despite the sting, Ichim is still walking barefoot most mornings. He says it help him feel more energized, more creative and put him in a better mood.

“The placebo effect, if it does something good for you, then who cares?”



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