It’s springtime and with it comes sun, worms, rain, and lots of mud. If you have kids, they might be driving you crazy with dirty hands that have you reaching for the hand sanitizer every five minutes.
At least it’ll cut back on spreading colds around and keep that nasty bacteria to a minimum, right?
Well, yes and no. That magic germ-killing serum in a bottle may be limiting illness for the moment, but it could be causing your family more harm than good.
These days, experts are recommending that kids and adults alike get dirty and stay dirty-and even avoid washing their hands before dinner, if playing outside.
Here are five reasons why dirt is good for you:
1) Dirt Helps Build a Great Immune System
According to the National Wildlife Federation, being close to dirt and bacteria helps the body to build a strong immune system. Dr. Joel Weinstock, director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston is quoted by them as saying, “Children raised in an ultraclean environment are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits.”
For their own benefit, Dr. Weinstock argues, kids should be outside and getting in the muck, in order to help ward off autoimmune diseases like allergies, asthma, multiple-sclerosis and type-1 diabetes in adulthood.
2) Dirt Can Help Prevent Heart Problems
In addition to boosting the body’s immune system, a study put out by Northwestern University says that exposure to dirt is good for childrens’ cardiovascular health. Researchers analyzed data collected from thousands of kids over a twenty-year span and found that those kids exposed to germs like the cooties found in a pile of soil in infancy, had lower levels of CRP, or ‘C-Reactive Protein’, something that science calls a biomarker for cardiovascular problems later in life.
3) Dirt Helps Heal Cuts
You might want to wash a cut right after you get one, but researchers at the University of California School of Medicine, San Diego, found that a common bacterial species living on skin, called Staphylococci can help prevent inflammation, and improve skin’s healing.
4) Dirt Can Lower Stress Levels and Decrease Depression
Chronic depression is something to see a doctor about for medical advice, but the average small bout of blues or stress in life may be helped by a bit of time in the great outdoors.
In a study conducted by researchers at Bristol University, Mycobacterium vaccae, or M. vaccae, a so-called “friendly” bacteria found in soil, was found to activate a group of neurons that produce the brain chemical serotonin, which enhances our feelings of well-being.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, “Making direct contact with soil, whether through gardening, digging for worms, or making mud pies has been shown to improve mood, (and) reduce anxiety…”
5) Dirt Improves Learning
And finally, the National Wildlife Federation says that researchers at The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York found that exposure to M. vaccae also improved learning in mice. While we aren’t rodents, scientists think that it may be something that can be applied to mammals in general.
So go on and roll in the mud this season. Get your kids full of muck, jump in the garden and revel in mud puddles. They’ll thank you for it.