The immunological benefits of mud

Playtime -
When it comes to how children spend their time, the various benefits of playing outside are well established.

The great outdoors -
By ditching electronics and heading outdoors, kids have the opportunity to get some exercise, as well as gain some valuable learning experiences.

The modern reality -
In today’s urban world, there are many children who never play outside, and those who do often have parents who don’t like them getting dirty.

The downside -
Of course, it can be a pain for parents when their kids come home covered in mud, particularly if they carry it through the house.

The upside -
New research suggests, however, that exposure to dirt can have important benefits for our health. Of course, this idea is not new.

Falling out of favor -
This hypothesis quickly fell out of favor, however, since experts believed it discouraged important hygiene practices, such as handwashing.

Problematic -
Indeed, the hygiene hypothesis has been described as “quite problematic from a public health perspective.”

Caveat -
That does not mean, however, that all organisms we come across outside are detrimental to our health. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

Friendly bacteria -
Experts now believe that the non-infectious organisms we come into contact with while in nature are very beneficial to our immune system.

Old friends -
Referred to by scientists as “old friends,” these organisms have been around throughout our evolutionary history and are generally harmless.

Childhood exposure - This is because their childhood exposure to a wider range of organisms helped their immune systems learn to self-regulate more effectively.

Stress in today's world -
We may have evolved this way, but the reality is this inflammation is less useful for the kinds of stressors we are exposed to today.

Research -
Research shows that children who grew up in a rural setting tend to have a reduced inflammatory response to stressful events, such as public speaking.

Control factors -
This even remained true when researchers controlled for other factors, such as the children’s socioeconomic status.

Forest bathing -
One discipline that is gaining in popularity is "forest bathing," the act of talking a gentle, meditative walk through the woods.

Gardening at school -
The children were then given planting boxes for gardening, which encouraged further contact with the soil and all its friendly microbes.

Impact on inflammation -
The proportion of anti-inflammatory molecules in their blood plasma had also increased (which indicates a better regulated immune system).

All in all -
Getting a little dirty, then, is not a bad thing for a child. Playing outside is to be encouraged!

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