Playing in the Dirt

A new report shows dirt makes children healthier and happier.

| May 7, 2012

  • Dirty, Healthy and Happy
    Studies reveal that children who play outside in the dirt are not only happier, but also tend to be healthier than children who spend most of their time inside.
    Anita P. Peppers/Fotolia

  • Dirty, Healthy and Happy

Dirt is a bad word to many moms, but letting your children get dirty is actually good for them, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation, “The Dirt on Dirt: How Getting Dirty Outdoors Benefits Kids.”

Fears about dangers lurking in the muck – microbes, parasites and amoebas, oh my! – keep some parents from letting children do what comes naturally, which is to go outside and get dirty.

But here’s a dirty little secret: Children who spend the better part of their free time in the company of their sterile hi-tech gadgets rather than playing outside are more vulnerable to obesity, ADHD, vitamin D deficiency and depression.

There’s a growing body of research that suggests overprotecting children from dirt and germs may actually inhibit their physical health and resilience. Activities children love, such as making mud pies, splashing in puddles and rolling down hillsides are actually a grubby prescription for health and happiness.



Some findings from various reports include:

  • Children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces, according to a 2004 study in the American Journal of Public Health.
  • When children are exposed to germs and pathogens during infancy, their risk of cardiovascular inflammation in adulthood is reduced, according to a 2010 Northwestern University study.
  • A friendly bacteria found in soil helps produce serotonin, which enhances feelings of well-being, much the same way that antidepressant drugs and exercise do, according to a 2007 Bristol University study.

While common sense sanitation practices like washing hands and using hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available shouldn’t stop, you’ll be doing your children a favor if you encourage them to go outside and get dirty.






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