Good news. A growing body of evidence suggests that mud can make us healthier and happier. As it turns out, that dad who always told his scraped-up kid to “just throw some dirt on it” may have been on to something.
Yes, it seems counterintuitive. Mud is good for you? But a growing body of evidence shows that the viruses, bacteria, and parasites that lurk in dirt and mud are—more often than not—actually benificial. While doctors still say commonsense cleanliness is very important (No, you can't stop washing your hands), increasingly they are finding that an obsession with cleanliness often does more harm than good.
Mud Is Relaxing: Numerous studies have found that dirt contains a microscopic bacteria called Mycobacterium Vaccae. While this may sound nasty, it’s actually a beneficial bacterium that measurably affects our body and mind by activating the neurons that increase serotonin levels. A growing body of evidence suggests that serotonin is responsible for maintaining mood balance and that a deficit of serotonin can lead to depression.
Mud Is Good For Our Health: Dermatologist expert Richard Gallo, a professor of medicine and pediatrics at UCSD, found that a bacteria commonly found in dirt called staphylococci, when present on the skin, can reduce inflammation after injury. Gallo notes that “these germs are actually good for us.” And these germs are particular good for kids. The Hygiene Hypothesis, an idea put forth in the eighties by British Professor David P. Strachan, holds that exposure to bacteria and viruses decreases a child’s chance of developing allergies and strengthens immunity. Kids seem to intuitively know the benefits of mud--their natural gravitation towards puddles may really be an instinctual drive to protect their immune system. Strachen’s idea is reinforced by an article in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine that contends that ultra-clean environments are actually less healthful than environments that offer some exposure to dirt and germs.
Mud Makes Us Happy: There are no mud puddles indoors. Though this may be painfully obvious, it is worth noting that dozens of studies have shown that time spent in the outdoors—the realm of dirt, mud, and puddles—has measurable positive effects on sleep, mood, and general well-being. One study even suggests that spending time in the outdoors makes us kinder and more sympathetic.
The Pro-Mud Evidence Is Compelling: More and more studies are showing that mud improves our mood and our health. It’s good for adults and even better for kids. It’s cheap. It’s fun. And it can be found practically everywhere. For outdoor enthusiasts, all of this merely confirms something that we already knew: A muddy trail is nature’s medicine. It’s just one more good reason to get outside and get dirty.