You can do it in the garden, you can do it on a mat and Elle Macpherson does it every day - but what is grounding? Holistic GP and author Dr Gemma Newman explains all

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Grounding - the act of grounding your body to the earth to improve wellbeing - is a buzzword in the world of biohacking and health optimization right now, with GTG columnist Elle Macpherson including it in her daily wellbeing routine. First thing each morning, she steps outside to feel the earth beneath her feet. And, before you ask, yes, we have noticed that it's January and squelching around in the muddy bog that used to be your back yard might not appeal, but there are other winter-friendly ways to practise grounding, including becoming a literal tree hugger or trying a grounding mat.

Grounding is one of the many free or cheap health-boosting tips included in brilliant new book Get Well Stay Well (Ebury Press, £20) by Dr Gemma Newman. Buckinghamshire-based GP partner Gemma, 42, has worked in healthcare for two decades, and alongside traditional medicine has a keen interest in holistic therapies, nutrition and lifestyle medicine. This well-rounded approach to health means a book full of science-based, achievable, accessible advice that you definitely don't need to be a biohacker to try. Subtitled, "the six healing habits you need to know", it uses an easy-to-remember acronym, GLOVES, to summarize Gemma's key pillars of health optimization: gratitude, love, outside, vegetables, exercise, sleep. If you need a new year wellbeing boost, it might just be the inspiration you're looking for.

In this exclusive extract from Get Well Stay Well, Gemma explains how grounding is believed to work, what exactly its benefits are and how you can give it a go.

Over to you, Gemma.

"There is something special about the feeling of grass beneath your feet and between your toes. Grounding is as simple as walking barefoot outdoors or using inexpensive grounding equipment indoors, eg a ‘grounding mat’ while sleeping or sitting. But is this just mumbo-jumbo or is there actually something in it we could benefit from physiologically?

"Generations ago, people tended to spend more time outside. There were also fewer physical barriers between the human body and the earth’s natural surfaces. We did not have carpeted homes and offices. In the last hundred years or so, we also tend to wear rubber- or plastic-soled shoes.

"Both of these materials act as insulators, which means an electrical charge can’t flow through them. Why is this relevant? All modern electrical systems, from large power grids to small electrical appliances, are connected to the earth for stability and safety. Think about a plug; there is a copper earth wire connected to the case, which provides a low-resistance path to the ground. This protects you from an electric shock by providing a path for a fault current to flow to the earth. The surface of the earth is affected by lightning strikes, solar radiation, and other atmospheric dynamics. These charged environmental phenomena give the land and water a continuously renewed supply of electrons, which makes the earth a natural source of negative electrical charge.

"The theory behind grounding for humans is that the earth’s electrons can have a positive impact on our bodies. Compare it to the health benefits we get from berries, which contain electrons that mop up positively charged free radicals in our bodies and combat oxidative stress. Similarly, contact with the ground can be a form of ‘electric nutrition’.

"Research is still scant but the data shows correlations between practising grounding and the relief of various ailments. In one very small study, blood samples were taken before and after grounding, and researchers looked for changes in blood cell viscosity, or ‘stickiness’. Low viscosity is important for cardiovascular health because it helps to maintain a steady flow of blood cells in the vessels. The results showed that grounding significantly reduced viscosity and clustering of red blood cells. This is important as, long term, it could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Three of the subjects were also experiencing pain, and two of these reported that their pain was gone after two hours of grounding, with the third reporting that her pain had nearly gone.

"Another small study involved people suffering from sleep disturbances and chronic pain. Half slept on grounding mats (a mat that usually connects via a wire to the ground port of an electrical outlet in your home, which mimics the effect of lying directly on the ground), while the other half slept on placebo mats. Those who were grounded reported a reduction in pain, better sleep and relief from conditions including asthma, as well as rheumatoid arthritis, PMS, sleep apnoea, and hypertension.

"I see these findings as hopeful that grounding could be a simple and free treatment to help reduce pain and improve sleep, although these are very small studies so we need to know more."

Dr Gemma Newman's simple ways to try grounding

  • Do some gardening, without gloves or barefoot, so you can feel the soil.
  • Have a nap on the grass.
  • Exercise outside barefoot.
  • Rest against a tree.
  • Touch natural environments, including rocks and trees, with bare hands.
  • Immerse yourself in a natural body of water such as a stream or lake.

This is an edited extract from Get Well Stay Well (Ebury Press, £20) by Dr Gemma Newman