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.

Panorama of Tropical waterfall Phnom Kulen, Cambodia
Panorama of Tropical waterfall Phnom Kulen, Cambodia

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.

Diagram of an atom by Buzzle.com
Diagram of an atom by Buzzle.com

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.

Yay science!

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

There may be benefits to exercising outside.
There may be benefits to exercising outside.

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.

Get outside to reap the benefits of negative ion exposure.
Get outside to reap the benefits of negative ion exposure.

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!

25 Replies to “Play In The Rain For Better Health”

    1. Hi Eric,
      Thanks for the feedback and keeping us honest. We’re with you on the pseudoscience and always strive to provide evidence based information in this blog. You are correct – there is no evidence to support negative ion exposure improving respiratory function (or that positive ions are detrimental). Companies selling indoor negative ion generators would prefer we believe differently. Thus, we did not claim negative ion exposure will cure anyone’s asthma woes.

      Evidence does, however, support negative ion exposure can help alleviate depression and boost feelings of well-being and that is what we tried to highlight. Who doesn’t want to feel happy and healthy? Thanks so much for reading and most importantly for commenting. We love hearing from you!

  1. I Love being outside when the weather is nice and if dressed appropriately even in the winter cold can be fun. Love the outdoors and playing in the rain sounds like a blast. We just don’t always let ourselves enjoy the outdoors like we should..

  2. I have noticed that walking outside breathing fresh air makes you want to walk an do more than walking on the treadmill. When you go hiking and feel the breeze makes you want to be outdoors more.

  3. I have always loved thunderstorms and rain, always felt happy when they were happening. Everyone said that was odd, guess there’s a good reason for it after all/

  4. It has been rainy day, I was get on my kids because they want to jump into a puddle of water. If it’s raining when I get off . Me and the kids are going to enjoy the rain by jumping in the puddles in my back yard

  5. Totally makes sense, I have always been drawn to creeks, of course the ocean and we have beautiful small waterfalls on our property!

  6. Just got an air purifier & 3 ionic devices that are telling me: SCIENCE is right on.
    How can one Not see the commen sense explanation? What a fabulous way clean the air & rid it of those nasty dust mites, and mold spores. YES it is also noticably happier in here.U can think what you want, I have proof.

  7. when a thunderstorm is approaching but the rain hasn’t gotten here yet there is a temperature shift to the cool side and the negative ions increase in the air and there is an invigorating inhale. One of my favorite things.

  8. hi sherry is it possible to send a source for the evidence regarding benefit s of neg ions
    ps a curious physician who believes in alternative aspects of making your body and mind feel better
    thanks a bunch

  9. Great article. I also learned that as our out door surroundings are becoming more and more developed and covered with cement we aren’t grounding our bodies. Which is super important. By removing our socks and shoes and putting our feet on the earth it grounds our bodies. Which in turn lifts our mood and gives us a better sense of well being. To the readers who don’t believe me…Do a little research yourself. That’s another way that coming in contact with the outdoors will lift your spirits and boost your health. Makes sense if you think about it. Pretty cool if you ask me. Take care!!

  10. I absolutely loved reading your post about the benefits of playing in the rain for better health! Thank you for sharing this refreshing perspective on wellness with us!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *