I love it when I learn that something I haven’t had much luck resisting is actually good for me. I don’t think I’m the only one, either – there is a reason that studies touting the benefits of red wine and chocolate keep making the rounds on our social networks!
Well, for my fellow parents who let a few days go by before wrangling their kids into the tub — this article is for you! It turns out that kids who are allowed to get dirty actually end up healthier with:
- Stronger immune systems
- Fewer allergies, and
- More robust disease defenses
Intrigued? Already wondering what to do with all of that time you used to spend trying to stop your kids from eating dirt? Start by reading these three great reasons to let your kids get dirty.
1. The Hygiene Hypothesis
First suggested in the 1980s, the hygiene hypothesis maintains that when children are too clean and their exposure to parasites, bacteria, and viruses is limited early in life, they face a greater chance of having allergies, asthma, (Yazdanbakhsh, 2002) and other autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and type-one diabetes during adulthood (Platts-Mills, 2005). We think we are protecting our kids by limiting their contact with dirt, bugs, mud and the like, but we may actually be harming them by preventing contact with immune-strengthening organisms.
2. Happy Kids
It turns out your three-year-old was right, rolling around in the mud really does make him happy. According to a 2004 study, stress levels in children fell within minutes of seeing a green space, and perhaps most fascinatingly, “Mycobacterium vaccae, or M. vaccae, a “friendly” bacteria found in soil, was shown to activate a group of neurons that produce the brain chemical serotonin, enhancing feelings of well-being, much in the same manner as antidepressant drugs and exercise.” Not bad for the price of a mud puddle!
Another theory in support of grubby kids is the hypothesis that “the health and diversity of the bacterial species in our gut mucosa a key factor for strengthening the immune system.” Basically from the time of conception the body works to create an internal catalog of disease, based on the pathogens it encounters. The bigger the catalog, the better the body is able to defend itself from a variety of maladies. Thus, the more exposure your child has to a variety of organisms present on grass, trees, animals, and all aspects of the natural world, the bigger the potential catalog and the stronger the immunological defense.
The bottom line? Ditch the probiotics supplement and the hand sanitizer. Take off your shoes, roll up your sleeves and get into it! Wade in rivers, splash in mud puddles, catch frogs. Not only will these activities boost health and happiness levels, they’ll create memories your child will cherish – far more than an afternoon playing Xbox or watching cartoons ever could.
Feature image courtesy of David K