“I was born to catch dragons in their dens And pick flowers To tell tales and laugh away the morning To drift and dream like a lazy stream And walk barefoot across sunshine days.”
― James Kavanaugh
Picture the scene. You are sitting in a meadow, the grass cool against your bare feet. Or perhaps you are strolling along a beach, damp sand rising between your toes and a trail of footprints behind you. We all know that being barefoot outside feels wonderful, but did you know that walking barefoot boasts a range of health benefits? In the third article in the Nature and Nurture series, we’re going to explore exactly what it can do for us.
Walk Through A Field To Reduce Your Electromagnetic Field
“Exposure to sunlight produces vitamin D in the body. It’s needed for health. Exposure to the ground provides an electrical “nutrient” in the form of electrons. Think of these electrons as vitamin G—G for ground. Just like vitamin D, you need vitamin G for your health as well.”
―Clint Ober, author of “Earthing"
Our bodies absorb electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from our electronic devices and appliances. This then reacts with the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that is responsible for storing and transferring energy in our cells. The thing is, we have little opportunity to dispel the electromagnetic radiation we carry around with us because whilst the human body is conductive, our rubber-soled shoes and man-made floor coverings are not. Research has shown that carrying around this much EMR causes stress, headaches, tiredness, anxiety, inflammation, and cognitive impairment. The negative ions present in the earth can help balance the positively charged ions in our bodies. Through connecting with the earth, known as “earthing”, we can physically ground ourselves and even reduce some of the negative effects of EMR.
The vagus nerve is the largest nerve of the autonomic nervous system. It extends from the brainstem down to the colon and plays a major role in carrying a range of signals between the digestive system and organs and the brain. In one study, earthing was shown to improve heart rate variability, and thus vagal tone. Since the vagus nerve activates the parasympathetic nervous system and helps our bodies to relax after a stressful event, improving vagal tone through regular earthing could contribute to improved mental health.
Mycobacterium Vaccae - Nature’s Antidepressant
As mentioned in the last Nature and Nurture article, Mycobacterium vaccae has been dubbed “nature’s antidepressant” and can be found in rich, moist soil. Studies have suggested that M. vaccae activates the neurons responsible for producing serotonin, which is one of the “happy hormones” that stabilize our mood and produce feelings of well-being. As well as depression and anxiety, a lack of serotonin has also been linked to chronic illnesses such as IBS and fibromyalgia. Since M. vaccae can be absorbed through the skin, whipping off your socks and shoes and having a wander around a green space is a great way to obtain some of its benefits.
Whilst some of us can be found traipsing around barefoot come rain or shine, if the Autumn chill is too much for your toes to take, harvesting and consuming organic vegetables from a garden, allotment, or community patch could be a great way to imbibe the benefits of soil bacteria whilst keeping your tootsies toasty.
Healthy Feet, Healthy Body
In the grand scheme of things, humans have been wearing shoes for a very short amount of time. It is believed that we first wore shoes around 40,000 years ago, which sounds like a long time. However, taking into consideration that modern humans have existed for around 300,000 years, we have been wearing some kind of footwear for just 13.3% of anthropological history. Furthermore, with synthetic soled shoes first making an appearance in the 1960s, humans have only been wearing rigid-soled shoes for a mere fraction of time.
It makes sense, then, for our physical posture and the pattern of limb movements we make during movement, or gait, to be improved when we spend less time confining our feet to shoes. Walking barefoot on any surface is beneficial for the muscles and ligaments of our feet. It can restore our natural walking patterns and improve foot biomechanics, leading to improved hip, knee, and core mechanics. Being barefoot also improves the proprioceptive neural input to the brain, which leads to greater awareness of the body’s position within space. And, if you need another reason to shun your shoes, going barefoot could create stronger leg muscles and in turn promote lower spine health.
Conclusively, as well as feeling delightfully liberating, barefoot walking could reduce EMR related symptoms, help to tone the vagus nerve for more effective stress recovery, boost our happiness levels, and improve our musculature and therefore our posture, leading to fewer aches and pains. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me!
My favourite way to practice barefoot walking is to find a smooth path through the woods, remove my shoes and socks, breathe deeply and relish the sensation of the cool earth against my soles (and, indeed, my soul), but there are plenty of different ground textures (think grass, meadow, sand, soil or rocks) to choose from. I challenge you to take just a few minutes over the next few weeks to give it a go: you may be surprised! If you dare to bare, we’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.
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I am passionate about the wellbeing of the planet and humanity, and how those two things are linked. I believe that by creating healthy habits and practices, we can create change for the better, both personally and globally
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