Why playing in the dirt should be on your family’s to-do list this summer

SALT LAKE CITY — A new study suggests that dirt is good for our mental health.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have been studying a soil-dwelling bacterium shown to ease stress, and they have now identified an anti-inflammatory fat that they believe is responsible for its stress-busting effects.

“We think there is a special sauce driving the protective effects in this bacterium, and this fat is one of the main ingredients in that special sauce,” lead author and CU Boulder Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry told Science Daily.

This comes 30 years after scientists offered a “hygiene hypothesis” suggesting that an increased exposure to microorganisms could benefit health, and that excessive hygiene was getting in the way.

In the years since the hypothesis was put forward, researchers have confirmed that human separation from microbes in the soil and environment we’ve always lived with negatively impacts our immune systems and mental health.

“The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation,” said Lowry. “That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorder.”

Additionally, our brains work much differently outdoors than they do indoors, according to a study from the University of Alberta, which found that the brain activity associated with sensing and understanding information changes when doing the same action outside versus inside.

As the summer begins, with parents dreading a constant barrage of screen time requests and kids fearing a moment away from their phones, many families find their anxiety and stress levels are already elevated. Here are some reasons to get outside — both in and out of the dirt — to help recalibrate everybody in this new season.

1. Get outside for exercise.

While many adults prefer going to the gym for their workout, kids don’t have that option. Getting kids outside — away from beckoning screens — will typically get them more exercise.

For young children, participating in physical activities outside of school helps them develop better motor skills earlier on, finds a study from East Tennessee State University. In addition, kids ages 6-17 need 60 minutes of aerobic activity each day, with muscle- and bone-strengthening exercise as part of that time, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, while adults require 2.5-5 hours of moderate aerobic activity each week.

2. Give your brain a break.

Spending time outside allows our brains to recharge, but it has to be the right kind of outside.

A study published in Psychological Science found that a walk in nature allows our brains to recharge because the stimuli in that environment grab our attention “modestly” and allow us to consider things at a less aggressive pace than a walk in an urban environment, where the stimuli are much more dramatic and require our attention. In other words, being in a natural environment — even a park — rather than a sidewalk affords our …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Top stories


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