When people talk about health, you may hear them refer to negative and positive ions floating around us and consider it a bunch of woo-woo oddness with no basis in science or reason.
Not a bunch of hooey, negative ions are a naturally occurring phenomenon. In fact, waterfalls are natural negative ion generators.
Let’s take a trip back to basic fifth grade science class. Atoms are made up of protons, neutron and electrons. Electrons are those little particles that energetically swirl around the nucleus of protons and neutrons.
When the number of electrons on the outside is greater than the number of protons in the middle, the atom becomes a negatively charged ion (anion). If the protons outnumber the electrons, the atom becomes a positively charged ion (cation).
Negative ions are generated in large quantities as air molecules break apart from moving water like rain showers, rivers, crashing waves and even fountains. Plants, air movement, sunlight and the radioactive decay of noble gases also naturally create them.
Because ions are charged, they are mobile. Negative ions are smaller and lighter and are more likely to become airborne while positive ions are heavier and tend to fall to the ground. Thus the concentration of negative ions is greater in the atmosphere near moving water. Rainstorms, waterfalls and beaches are natural negative ion generators.
OK, so maybe science makes your eyes glaze over and I lost you at “fifth grade science class” but there is a reason for the lesson: studies show exposure to negative ions has a direct impact on our mood and well-being.
In this study both bright light and negative air ion exposure were shown to alleviate chronic non-seasonal depression as well as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Theories suggest that negative ions increase serotonin levels to boost our mood and energy, alleviate depression and provide stress-relief. In this study, exercise (in the form of
Tai Chi in this instance) paired with negative ion exposure produced better health effects than exercise alone. Yes, it would appear, the environment in which you exercise may play a role in its effectiveness.
Speaking of environments, companies are now selling negative ion generators for people to use in their homes and work spaces. Do these generators work? Of course the companies selling them would respond with a hearty “yes!” but the jury is still out. Research has yet to prove the benefits of artificially created negative ion sources.
That’s okay though. If you would like to increase the amount of negative ions in your home or work place, consider live plants or (if your seasonal allergies allow it) simply open the windows and let in some fresh air. Who knows what the breeze from the trees will carry your way. At home, showers count as moving water too. Have you ever marveled at how good you feel after a nice shower? You were creating your own negative ions.
Since negative ion concentrations are greatest outside, the best option for increasing your exposure is to spend time in nature. Go for a hike near a babbling brook, follow a trail to a hidden waterfall or find a beach and dally near (or in!) the waves. Thunderstorm outside? Perfect! Wait for the lightning to pass and take a walk outside to be surrounded by negative ions. Breathe deep and lift your spirits.
Time spent outside in natural light and negative ion concentrations is worth the time and effort. Play in the rain. Your mind and body will thank you!