Maximize your wellbeing this summer
On a clear June day, I just can’t sit still, and I really can’t stand to be indoors. I feel a magnetic pull to the bright blue sky, and my feet seem to have a mind of their own – my shoes pop off almost involuntarily as soon as I see a lawn. I just can’t resist feeling the plush grass between my toes and the warm sun on my face.
And you know what? The reason might be subconscious, and actually based in science: it turns out there are substantial (and some surprising) health rewards to making the outdoors part of your summer wellbeing.
Antioxidants in the ground
Recently I came upon a magazine article that claimed walking barefoot in the grass had antioxidant benefits. I scoffed a bit, assuming quackery, but being the research nerd that I am, I went to the journals. And sure enough, mounting research from peer-reviewed scientific studies supports that direct contact with the earth, referred to as “grounding”, may offer significant benefits. Amongst these are reduced inflammation, improved wound healing, better sleep, reduced stress, and potentially even prevention and/or treatment of chronic inflammatory and immune disease.
Inflammation actually begins to subside within 30 minutes of contact with the earth. How is this possible? Well, it is hypothesized that electrons from the earth’s surface are taken up from ground via the skin and shuttled throughout the body where they act as antioxidants – just like dietary antioxidants do, by donating electrons1. Shall we all roll around in the grass now? (I really didn’t need the excuse.)
And vitamins in the sky!
If you still need another reason, consider vitamin D. You may have heard the much-buzzed-about association between its deficiency and certain cancers, osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, and even depression (to name a few).2 You may even be taking a supplement.
But, depending on your skin tone, just 30 minutes in the sun (legs and arms uncovered, no sunscreen) provides a whopping 20,000 IU2 of the vitamin – the dietary equivalent of 200 glasses of fortified milk. And a study in the International Journal of Epidemiology concluded that the global burden of UV-exposure-related disease is minor compared to the amount of disease related to reducing our exposure to very low levels3 (as we’ve been trained by fear to do in recent years). Of course moderation is key, and you should discuss your own individual risk level with your doctor.
Harness that summer boost
Maximize your wellbeing over the next few months by take your yoga to the lawn, running around the yard with your kids, taking your laps to the lake, or going for a barefoot walk in the sand. Of course, in doing so, be sure to stay well hydrated, well nourished and sun safe. Drink water before, during and after a period of activity in the heat. Try infusing water with berries, cucumber and herbs (as pictured!) to sip on all day – it tastes great, entices you to drink more, and you’ll get a few extra vitamins.
As always, fuel your body with a well-balanced diet that takes advantage of the myriad of beautiful, colourful fruits and veggies in season locally. Wash, peel and cut a bunch right after you bring them home, and keep them front and centre in the fridge to encourage you to reach for them when you feel snacky. To protect your skin for extended sun exposure, try covering up with a hat and clothing rather than chemical sunscreens (many ingredients of which are under scrutiny4) or seek out a more natural alternative.
Go play outside, have fun, and (while you’re at it) hug the earth – it seems it might just hug you back.