Y’all, I love dirt. I find it oddly comforting and grounding (pun intended). Not to mention the fact that the earth has tons of healing properties. A number of these come from the microbes that live in dirt, and others come from simply being in contact with the earth. Basically, it’s looking like having a bit of time in the dirt can do all of us some good. Here are my top reasons why.
Strengthens your immune system. Simply put, exposure to microbes helps your immune system learn how to deal with them. The hygiene hypothesis suggests that we are seeing a rise in chronic inflammatory diseases (e.g. allergies and autoimmune conditions) due to significant changes in our microbiome. These changes are likely arising from being too cut off from the natural environment. Research also tells us that depression, and likely anxiety, are heavily related to inflammation and therefore fall into this category of diseases.
Boosts your mood. There are tons of bacteria in the outside world, and we know that a particular one, M. vaccae, increases activity in mood-regulating serotonin-producing areas of the brain. The really cool bit is that it does this just by being in the air you breathe when you’re out in nature. Another phenomenon, known as “harvest high”, says that we actually release dopamine when we harvest food. Plus, the sunshine you are likely getting supports vitamin D and serotonin production.
Diversifies your microbiome. Having some variety in your microbiome is key to gut health and the health of the rest of your body. We can diversify our microbiome through probiotic foods and by making friends with the good bacteria in our environment. You have plenty of beneficial bacteria on your skin that are a part of your microbiome, so even getting dirty is good for adding some variety. Diversifying your microbiome improves mood, digestion, skin conditions, immune function, and so much more
Increases cognitive function. Being outside uses most of your senses. You feel the sunshine, the texture of the dirt, smell the flowers, hear the birds, see the clouds in the sky, and perhaps taste the pollen in the air. When we engage with our environment this way, we improve our memory and problem-solving ability.
Decreases inflammation. When we touch the earth with our bare skin, the electrical properties of the earth can bind to and neutralize free radicals in our bodies. Those free radicals could otherwise be causing oxidative stress and inflammation, and that inflammation can wreak all sorts of havoc on the body if it sticks around too long. Oxidative stress from those free radicals can have negative effects on DNA and protein molecules, which subsequently affect nearly every structure and process in the body.
Have I convinced you yet? Whether you’re fully on board or still a bit skeptical, I encourage you to go play outside and see how it feels. Try walking barefoot, gardening without gloves, or simply sitting in the grass. Your microbiome will thank you!