How Getting Dirty Can Actually Lift Your Mood

When we breath in fresh air, and enjoy the beauty and awe of trees, streams, and oceans, we naturally tend to feel more connected to ourselves and others.

Mar 6, 2018
child with muddy hands

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Its undeniable that spending time outdoors and in nature lifts our spirits, and makes us feel more centered and at peace. When we breath in fresh air, and enjoy the beauty and awe of trees, streams, and oceans, we naturally tend to feel more connected to ourselves and others.

Over the past decade, scientists have been exploring why nature - and dirt specifically - is such a powerful tool in improving our mood.

According to researchers, the secret may lay in the microbes of the soil. One bacterium specifically - Mycobacterium Vaccae - has been identified as having the power to affect our moods and cognitive function as well!

Experiments conducted at Sage Colleges in NY found that contact with M. Vaccae can increase serotonin levels in the brain - a chemical that is associated with higher levels of happiness, increased focus, and reduced anxiety. In order to explore how the bacteria can improve learning, researchers Dory Mathews and Susan Jenks experimented with mice in a maze. Mice that ingested the bacteria navigated the maze twice as fast as the control group, and proved less anxious, as well.

Humans can absorb M. Vaccae just by playing in the dirt. We inhale it when we breath, we consume it in organic vegetables, and it can also enter our bloodstream through skin contact, especially where we have open cuts.

This may explain why children in school perform better after recess.

Neuroscientist Christopher Lowry at the University of Bristol in England believes he has identified why this incredible bacterium works.  “What we think happens is that the bacteria activate immune cells, which release chemicals called cytokines that then act on receptors on the sensory nerves to increase their activity.”

Beyond the power of M. Vaccae, scientists have been proving for decades that exposure to dirt, and the myriad of microbes found in dirt, can strengthen our immune system. When our body comes into contact with bacteria, it stores the information into a type of library, and can then use that information to fight sickness and infection more effectively.

Happiness, focus, less-anxiety… I’ll take a double dose of dirt, please!

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HILLA BENZAKEN, CONTRIBUTOR
Hilla Benzaken is a dedicated optimist. Her happy place involves cooking, acting, gardening, and fighting for social justice. She writes about all things sustainability, innovation, and DIY.

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