Are there health benefits associated with greater exposure to dirt and germs?
For those who grew up before the modern digital age, it’s safe to assume you spent a good portion of your childhood playing outdoors. Playing football, climbing trees, and just plain getting dirty. And even though you were probably advised not to, you may have taste-tested one of those mud pies made on a hot summer day playing make-believe.
In today’s society, we’re constantly reminded about the importance of hygiene; which is no surprise post-pandemic. And although cleanliness is not a bad thing as it helps to stop the spread of deadly diseases, it can also negatively affect our long-term ability to fight infections. In fact, many bacteria are harmless and live in the environment without causing harm to humans. Some bacteria are positively beneficial, like those in the gut which produce vitamin K for us.
Obsessive hand washing breaks down the skin’s natural protective barrier, which can make you more prone to infection and allergic reactions. So, getting a little dirty will not only not hurt you, but it’ll help you too.
Thankfully, you don’t have to live in a mess to get the benefits. Small things like starting a garden, having a pet, and eliminating or at least reducing your use of chlorine-based cleaners and antibacterial soaps will aid your microbiome health.
The following are just a few of the many health benefits associated with exposure to everyday dirt and germs.
Immune system benefits
The immune system is integral to your overall health. It protects your body from harmful viruses and bacteria. So it’s only fitting that the soldier fighting all of your internal battles against disease be in top shape. The immune system should be exposed to dirt from a young age so it can better recognize threats as they come throughout your life. To be clear, the dirt should be fresh soil and away from pet droppings and chemical contamination.
The outdoors benefits more than just the body, but the mind as well. A study surveying schools found that 92% of students experience improved overall health and well-being from spending time outside. Outdoor activities allow you to connect with nature. Those who spend time outside have reduced rates of anxiety and depression as the natural world calms the mind and eases some of the stresses of everyday life. So go get your hands dirty gardening or go for a walk through your local park – your mind will thank you for it.
These are just a few of the health benefits of increasing your and your children’s exposure to dirt and germs. There’s no need to sacrifice hygiene for better immune health. However, cleanliness is not the only way to protect yourself from harm. Let your children get out there, get digging and get dirty!