Why Getting Dirty Can Reduce Anxiety and Benefit You in Other Ways

Walk into into any grocery store or pharmacy and you will immediately be overwhelmed with the selection of antibacterial soaps, gels, sprays and wipes that line the shelves.

Antibacterial cart wipes are strategically positioned by shopping carts, and hand sanitizing lotions are available around every corner. And let’s not forget the antibacterial nature of our dishwashing detergents, laundry soaps and even hair and makeup products these days. With all these germ-killing cleansers, it’s amazing we get sick at all any more.

Unfortunately, we do get sick… quite often actually. One solution that may safeguard us more than any gel, lotion, potion or spray can’t be found in a pharmacy, but right in our own backyard. The answer: dirt.

Yes, dirt is dirty. It is teeming with millions of microscopic bacteria that find their way into our systems from the minute we walk through a garden or trail through the woods. But rather than avoid it, you may want to consider getting down and dirty with your kids the next time you have the chance.

Contrary to our germ-fearing natures, playing in the dirt benefits both kids and adults alike in a number of ways, from both a physical and mental health perspective.

The term “nature deficit disorder” refers to the fact that as a society, we spend barely half the time outdoors today than we did decades ago. In fact, the Junior Oxford Dictionary removed nature-related terms such as “beaver” and “dandelion” and replaced them with more technologically savvy ones like “blog” and “mp3.” This separation from nature has been linked with the growing instances of ADHD, depression, anxiety, obesity, allergies and countless other conditions among our population.

One recent study found that Amish children growing up on farms had significantly fewer allergies than their city-dwelling counterparts, who lacked exposure to farmland’s myriad of bacteria. In fact, many children who are allowed to “get dirty” experience stronger immune systems, as their developing bodies produce more disease fighting antibodies thanks to increased exposure to different germs.

Dirt exposure isn’t just beneficial for kids, either. One strain of bacteria is of particular importance for adults as well. Mycobacterium vaccae naturally thrives in soil and can easily be ingested just by walking through the garden. Scientists have found that exposure to the bacteria reduces anxiety and depression, and can help increase mental clarity in both adults and children.

Getting your hands a little dirty can do a world of good physically for both kids and adults. With children suffering from obesity in this country more now than ever before, turning off the television and encouraging outdoor play among the sandboxes or dirt pits not only burns calories, but also stimulates imagination and motor-skill development.

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul. –Alfred Austin

For those who have the space, gardening is a task the whole family can benefit from. The little to no-impact exercise that gardening provides is a great way to burn calories in the fresh air and increase mobility and flexibility in older adults who prefer to avoid trendy gyms and fitness centers.

From a psychological perspective, tending a garden and watching plants grow and develop, whether they be of the flowering variety or the edible fruit or vegetable type, reduces stress and instills a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment for young and old alike.

And while no one would recommend sitting down to a handful of dirt, research has indicated that literally eating dirt was a means our ancestors and even some remote tribes of today employed and continue to employ to adequately consume the necessary amounts of nutrients (about 40-50) needed for optimum health. So the next time you’re feeling a little lax in the nutrient department, you may want to let a little bit of that soil remain on your carrot or cucumber.

-The Alternative Daily


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